November 02, 2017
After Bishop Leonard Fairley and Rev. Eric Bryant, the Kentucky Annual Conference’s director of New Church Development, attended a service at The Source in Lexington on Oct. 1, they stopped for lunch at a nearby restaurant.
It turned out their server was unconnected to a church. They took the opportunity to highly recommend that she check out The Source.
The woman, who was about 30, is just the type of person Pastor Jill Ruhl and her team at The Source have been trying to reach since it formally launched in April as a multisite of Southern Hills UMC. The Source welcomes everyone, of course, but it’s especially interested in people who are unchurched – or more likely “de-churched,” Pastor Ruhl said, explaining why Southern Hills has chosen to reach out to an underserved slice of the community and why her team is so energized.
“Newness is attractive,” Pastor Ruhl said. “The opportunity to be part of a new community, to be a part of forming it, for making a new space for Jesus in the community, it’s just an exciting thing for people.”
Rev. Bryant said that informal, contemporary churches such as The Source are created with people like their server in mind, those who may feel uncomfortable in a traditional church setting and yet are “yearning for community” and who desire to experience Christ’s love.
Rev. Bryant, who assumed his New Church Development director’s role in June, said Southern Hills’s launch of The Source is a perfect example of a so-called “multisite” that has a high chance of succeeding.
“Jill has a passion to reach unchurched people,” he said. “She is doing a great job.”
The story of The Source’s launch actually goes back six years, to when Pastor Ruhl was appointed associate pastor at Southern Hills. She was placed there largely because she was interested in planting a church and Southern Hills’s senior pastor, Bill Moore, was as well.
“Without him and this support, none of this would ever have happened,” Pastor Ruhl said.
Pastor Moore said that she was hired specifically because “she’s got the right attributes” for church planting, people who have a passion for reaching those who wouldn’t be in church otherwise. They must be self-starters, good communicators and embrace innovation.
“I think it just helps to have people who love life,” he said.
Within about a year, Pastor Ruhl was given responsibility over the contemporary worship service at Southern Hills, which had been started some years earlier and already was known as The Source. She was charged with growing the worship service, which typically had about 35 on Sunday morning. Those worshipers would become the core of The Source’s migration to a new site.
During those early days she worked to build relationships and gain the trust of the congregation. Southern Hills also began the visioning process, quickly getting the church’s administrative teams involved.
Kevin Parido of Spiritual Leadership Inc. (commonly known as SLI) coached them, focusing on one key question: Why reach outside the walls of Southern Hills? The church put together a team made up of half traditional worshipers (Southern Hills’s worship style) and half contemporary worshipers from The Source to address that question.
The New Church Development office also got involved. The director at the time, Rev. Paul Brunstetter, went to Southern Hills and spoke to the congregation about the importance of planting new congregations. Church leadership decided early on that the congregation would vote on whether to birth a new site.
The information-gathering process continued. They investigated what it would cost to renovate a space, looked at how it would impact staff at both campuses, created a three-year financial blueprint, talked with other Kentucky church planters, and then put all the answers in a bundle for congregants. They ended up holding three meetings with church members, some of whom were concerned that a large portion of Southern Hills would leave for the new site.
“We wanted to be very transparent,” Pastor Ruhl said. “Transparency was very important with the congregation, because some assumed it was a done deal without the congregation being consulted, and that wasn’t the case at all.”
Funding was obviously a priority. Pastor Ruhl started calling friends, family and church members. They went into the final congregational meeting with $171,000 pledged toward the project and the support of church trustees and the other administrative teams.
At the meeting they addressed any last-minute questions and presented the final prospective budget. More than 300 people attended, and the vote was overwhelmingly to launch the new site. They assembled a lead launch team of 14 “brilliant, passionate, excited people” who began putting together a vision for the future, including a mission statement and values specific to the new campus.
She and launch team members held their own boot camp, and renovation started at the selected site – the Keithshire Place Center in the Wellington neighborhood, about 2.5 miles from Southern Hills. The site had ample space – about 7,400 square feet. Fortunately, much of the key infrastructure, such as restrooms, already was in place. The renovation cost about $127,000.
The church also held a campaign called Finishing a Good Work that generated about another $40,000 for campus fixtures, such as sanctuary chairs, tables, and items for the children’s ministry. Southern Hills also provided $50,000 from its building fund.
When the time came, 95 percent to 98 percent of The Source’s members – which by now had grown to between 65 and 75 most Sundays – attended the relaunch service, Pastor Ruhl said.
“So that’s how we got from zero to 60 in about a year and a half,” she said, laughing.
Since the launch last April, average attendance has grown to about 90 each Sunday, Pastor Ruhl said – a surprising increase since summer typically sees church attendance drop off, or at best hold steady. “The minute we got out the doors, our numbers started increasing,” she said. She credits well-placed advertising, individual invitations, and the general newness of the project.
Their facility is impressive. It has a sanctuary that seats 170, several classrooms (including four devoted just to children on Sunday morning), a nursery, a storage area, and a garage. Parking is plentiful since The Source is situated in a shopping center.
“We have a great space to work within here, and we can see staying here for a number of years,” Pastor Ruhl said.
Ultimately, she and her team got about $210,000 in pledges, much of which went into their three-year budget plan. But more than just logistics and finances were involved, she stressed. From the beginning, the effort was heavily steeped in prayer. In fact, The Source started a monthly service focused on prayer in September; 28 people from both campuses attended.
Sunday services are contemporary, casual, and welcoming. A praise band provides music. The sanctuary has a large chalkboard on the wall for people to write down prayers and praises. People come early and stay after church. “It’s just a real comfortable atmosphere,” Pastor Ruhl said.
Besides Sunday services and the monthly prayer services, The Source features a Wednesday morning women’s study and Wednesday night young adult ministry, she said.
One challenge for churches with multiple campuses is fostering a sense of unity. It can be hard for a congregation at more than one site to feel like one church. Southern Hills and The Source heavily promote cross-campus activities. In addition, a combined Christmas Eve service is planned at the Southern Hills campus.
So what about the restaurant server who received an invitation from the bishop and Rev. Bryant on Oct. 1? As of early November, she hasn’t been to The Source, but Pastor Ruhl is watching for her – and other people like her – ready to extend a welcoming hand. It’s all part of The Source’s metamorphosis.
“God just laid it all out for me, and it’s been an amazing ride,” she said. “And it’s still just getting started.”
IF YOU GO
The Source, Southern Hills UMC’s contemporary community, worships at 10:30 a.m. at 3330 Partner Place, Suite 130 (the Keithshire Place Center) in Lexington. Source Studies Classes for children and adults start at 9:15 a.m., and nursery care is available. Everyone is welcome!