In 2007, Park Valley Church in Haymarket, Virginia, scheduled a special Christmas Eve worship service. At the time, no other church in the area offered such a service. Faculty and staff hoped that they might see modest numbers on Christmas Eve, but they weren’t prepared for the incredible turnout.
“We had droves of people show up that night,” recalls Barry White, senior pastor at Park Valley Church.
Unprepared for that kind of crowd, White’s staff scrambled to create seating, even bringing in mini chairs from the preschool area. With grown adults teetering on wee chairs and regular worshipers offering up their seats to guests, more bodies kept pouring in. By the time the service started, people were standing around the perimeter of the sanctuary. Some church members even stood outside to make sure guests could hear the speakers.
“Despite the crowd, everyone stayed,” White says. “That’s what was amazing.”
Following that Christmas Eve service, the church saw exponential growth. According to White, one reason for that is because so many people witnessed God’s love at work that night.
“Our vision statement is ‘persuading people through love to follow Jesus,’” White says. “Our members are great at following through with that, and that’s precisely what invites conversations, establishes connections and forms relationships.”
John Mozingo, next step pastor at Park Valley, says that great change happens in a church when followers combine a love for God and a love for people.
“That’s precisely what Pastor White does,” Mozingo says. “He’s very transparent with our congregation. He talks about his own faults and failures, and that honesty and authenticity resonates with people.”
The message of love and hope is an important one for this transient community in northern Virginia, which employs a large amount of law enforcement, military and government employees, according to Mozingo. With so many jobs riding on promotions and renewed contracts, the stress level is high and the workdays are long. Most people have a two-hour commute one way, which means they get home from work around 7:30 p.m., have dinner and brief time with family, and then are up at 4 a.m. to do it all over again. That kind of arduous schedule makes it difficult to build lasting relationships.
Mozingo says that those in his home state of Florida are used to spending 15 to 20 hours a week on a beach or on a boat. But in Park Valley’s community, people must spend 15 to 20 hours a week in a car, stuck in traffic. As a result, they are exhausted by week’s end, and so when they come to church on Sunday morning, they’re looking for some relief from the rat race.
“People feel loved on when they come here,” Mozingo says. “They leave thinking, ‘Wow, the people at Park Valley love me, so Jesus must love me.’”
Though Park Valley has experienced steady growth through the years, White insists that there is no magic formula for growing numbers. His only advice is to spread love.
“Show love in the community. Show love to your family. Show love to your coworkers,” White says. “Show God’s love.”
PARK VALLEY CHURCH
Lead Pastor: Barry White
Twitter: @PastorBarryVA, @VAParkValley
A 2016 OUTREACH 100 CHURCH
Growth in 2015: +586 (33%)