Take Hold of the Vision

What’s Cedarcrest’s big-picture strategy for getting people engaged in the life of the church? 

We’ve always wanted to lead our church in such a way that people don’t just find us, but that they can meet with God when they’re here. So the word “encounter”—that’s the big picture for us. We want people to have that. 

We’re trying to think outside the walls. How can we engage missionally? How can we bring church to where people are, and not be thinking constantly about how we’re going to get them here? Because we’ve found that if we go where they are, and if we live on mission where they are, then they will naturally filter here.

What did you do during COVID-19? 

When schools shut down at the beginning of the pandemic, we created the Shared Learning Center. Elementary students were going to have to figure out how to get online. And we’ve got a small community near us—a trailer park—where a lot of moms and dads are employed in shift work and couldn’t take off to get their kids online. And then if it’s a single-parent family, it was even harder. 

So we opened up our church building. We provided the iPads and laptops, and people volunteered to help kids sign on and get connected to their teachers. We had other volunteers serve lunch. The local guidance counselors were helping us know which families to reach out to. And so we just rallied around some at-risk families, and God blessed that. People said, “Hey, this is much bigger than just attending a church.”

Last year, we did Summer in the Suburbs. We wanted to reach people who maybe weren’t connected to a church before COVID-19 or maybe were somewhere but had pulled back and were not quite comfortable coming back into a crowded church building. So we went to four different locations during July. We set up church in large green spaces in some of the larger neighborhoods near us. 

We had 400 times more guests than we normally have in July. We had a little table set up. People could come tell us who they were and throw their name in the hat for a drawing for a free cooler or whatever. After church, we served hot dogs and hamburgers. We’re still getting people who say, “We came to one of those things you did last summer. And then we came to your Christmas service and loved it. So now we decided to start coming. What’s our next step?”

Another aspect of your retention is increasing your diversity. 

As a church, we’re more like 80–90% white, which doesn’t fully represent our community. So we’ve really tried to work hard at building bridges to those of different ethnicities. With all the racial tension in the last couple years, we decided this is an opportunity for us to take a stand and be clear about who we want to be as a church. And we’re not going to just talk about this for one or two Sundays because it’s a hot topic in our culture or at the front of your newsfeed. This is going to be a marathon for us, and we’re going to stay committed to it.

We recently hosted an event called Bridge Builders. We provided dinner and invited anyone in the community who wanted to come. We listened to a teaching from Tony Evans about the body of Christ, unity and being a part of the church. We got to know each other and build relationships. And we challenged everyone to continue those relationships—to have coffee together, go out for breakfast, have somebody over for dinner. And, we’ve had great feedback—people of color in our church thanking us and saying that they’re excited to be part of a church who wants to do this. 

We’re just one step at a time, intentionally inviting people of color into our growth track. “Hey, we need what you have. You have something you’re gifted in. We want you to be part of leading here at Cedarcrest. So, let’s figure out your gifts and what you’re passionate about.” In Revelation 7, it’s very clear that John’s vision of heaven included every tribe and tongue. Ethnic identities will still be represented in heaven. So, for us, we want it on earth as it is in heaven. 

Share the story of someone who’s encountered God through Cedarcrest. 

During COVID-19, a lot more people started watching online. We’ve had families of color find us online. One Black couple who lives on the South Side of Atlanta, which is about a 45-minute drive from Cedarcrest, discovered us online. They heard our heart for wanting to be a church that represents our community. And so they started driving up to worship with us. Turns out the husband’s an amazing drummer, and so we pulled him into our worship band. Now they’re driving up here regularly on Sundays, and they’re looking for a house up here. That’s just one little window into what happens when people get ahold of the vision.

Jessica Hanewinckel
Jessica Hanewinckel

Jessica Hanewinckel is an Outreach magazine contributing writer.