How two faiths became one church and a success story

UMC and Presbyterian merger is New Life Community Church

Tonight’s (April 13) 8 p.m. Maundy Service at New Life Community Church, in many ways, was made possible by a willingness by its congregation to evolve.

The service will lead New Life into its first Easter service celebrating as a unified church. New Life represents the union of the former Luling United Methodist Church and First Union Presbyterian Church, which came together in an effort to increase attendance and fortify their ability to pursue a collective mission.

The decision to merge has allowed the new church to thrive. New Life Pastor Rob Weber estimates a rise of 30 percent in attendance since the two churches joined together, and that has allowed many of New Life’s projects to blossom.

“It’s been very much a success,” Weber said. “I think what’s most exciting is, to me, the way that (congregation members of each church) both opened themselves up to each other’s way of doing things. Not so much ‘do it my way or do it my way,’ but ‘what does God want us to do?’ That can be a big deal, getting folks set in their ways together to do something. But that was the key.”

Weber said the difference has been tangible, and not just at weekly service.

“To go from not having any kids here for Sunday school or children’s time, maybe one or two, to this past week, having a confirmation class of 10 … it’s a huge difference,” he said. “Christmas eve service attendance was under 100 people, now we’re over 300. In a two-year period, that’s pretty neat.”

He said he feels the church has cultivated a sense of renewed energy. Weekly services for Luling United Methodist Church averaged roughly 100 people, while First Union Presbyterian Church averaged about 20. But now, decisions can be made to further the church’s mission and in an attempt to make progress; in the past, Weber notes, decisions could have come down to self-preservation.

“We’re seeking the future of what God wants us to be,” he said.  “Instead of being directed by fear or scarcity, we’re directed by abundance.”

Some of the ways New Life carries out that mission include food drives to help alleviate hunger. Another way is through many of the retired teachers and members of the congregation who give their time to tutor at Luling Elementary once a week. New Life partners with CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children) and did a Christmas outreach program for them, then followed up with one for Easter, helping provide books and board games to the children in the CASA program.

“We’ve emphasized reaching out to the community … don’t just look inside,” Weber said. “Be about giving yourselves away. It’s not about how we worship but who we worship.”

Since the two churches have combined, the church has hosted community groups, community education classes, the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts and the 4H club. A grief support group has also been established, growing from two people early on to as many as 12 today.

“The question kind of became, ‘why are we trying to keep two separate churches going when we’re really working toward the same common mission, which is to make disciples?’” said Jennifer Green, New Life’s Ministries Coordinator. “We all want to serve as Jesus would have us serve. Why don’t we just do this together? It makes perfect sense to everyone involved.”

She said the greater pool of people has brought a more diverse set of skills, resources, abilities and interests within the ranks of its members. Luling United Methodist, she said, included a lot of younger families with children, while First Union Presbyterian had an older congregation.

“It’s been so nice to have the wisdom and support from our older folks,” said Green, who was a member of Luling United Methodist prior to the churches joining. “And our older folks have been so happy to have the young children and life in the church again.

“There’s some noise in our church, now, a baby may cry … but most older people say that it doesn’t bother them, because it’s the sound of life, the future of the church.”

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