Posted on : Tuesday October 7, 2008

LANSDOWNE, Md.—First Church, Lansdowne will have its fifth annual fall festival this year as a community outreach. They’ll have clowns, face painting, music, food, Christian motorcyclists, puppets and various booths, typical of many such events. They had their first festival in 2003 and were happy when 50 people came to the church lawn. Last year, 600 people came and this year the sky’s the limit.

The festival’s success is just part of the new awakening at First Church, Lansdowne. Bill Cochran, pastor of the church, said 2008 has been an incredible year of spiritual growth and outreach thanks to a new emphasis on youth ministry, evangelism and partnership missions that has invigorated the congregation.
Cochran said over the last five years they’ve averaged about 75 in attendance on Sundays. Now that number is 120 with 200 as a high and 110 as a low.

“These are people, broken, coming to be healed. That’s Jesus stuff!” Cochran said.
First, Lansdowne went through a transition time after their pastor of 16 years, Conrad Burch, retired in 2001. Cochran said that Burch was such a wonderful presence that after he left there was a vacuum as the church adjusted. But gradually members, under Cochran’s leadership, began to develop a revisioning process. In 2005, Cochran said the church had “turned the corner” and new growth and vision was emerging well as some financial strengthening.

This year, the church made a big move in hiring Michael LaFave, husband of Jaime LaFave, director of mobilization for Embrace Baltimore. When LaFave came onboard, there were few kids coming to Sunday school and they were coming sporadically. Under LaFave’s leadership, the church started a new Wednesday night youth program and six kids showed up. Within a month the number doubled. In July, the teens went to King’s Fest, a Christian youth event at King’s Dominion in Virginia. They also stopped for a quick tour of the International Mission Board offices in Richmond. LaFave said that trip was important because he and the kids really got to know each other and he also saw some spiritual growth.

When the church prayerwalked through the community this summer, 30 people participated, including the youth.

The summer of 2008 was a turning point for the church. First, Lansdowne had what Cochran called “explosive growth” when they teamed with Embrace Baltimore who facilitated partnerships with mission teams from Maryland, South Dakota and Florida. These teams came to work around the church, canvass local neighborhoods, help with a Vacation Bible School, lead a Backyard Bible club and a sports camp. They did VBS and the backyard Bible club back to back the same week. The next week they had an Upwards camp. The community responded. On closing night of VBS, the sanctuary was packed and Cochran had to do what pastors love to do – put out extra chairs.

Cochran said part of the summer success was due to working with the Embrace Baltimore staff to formulate a plan ahead of time to really, strategically reach out and then to prepare the church. Now First, Lansdowne is catching the vision and seeing the possibilities around them for reaching their community for Christ, and they’re excited about it.

The church began working to develop relationships with local schools. With the help of mission teams, they picked up trash and organized materials for teachers and administrators. Because of those acts of kindness, one of those schools chose First, Lansdowne as its one church to include with other local businesses on a magnetic white board they sold as a fundraiser. Now the church name is on refrigerators throughout the Lansdowne community.

Cochran said the church is trying hard to develop relationships and build a reputation in the community. They have movie nights in the summertime to give folks a place to enjoy some family time and the church provides food and clothing to needy families.

They’re also reaching across denominational lines. As a member Church of the Inter-Faith Partnership (IFP), they hosted an ecumenical community Thanksgiving service for the IFP churches that drew 180 people from all across denominational lines worshipping together.

While focusing outside of the church, First, Lansdowne has seen growth within. The Sunday school is growing with many classes “bursting at the seams.” Cochran said they’ve been surprised at the success of a Homebuilders “home group” class, led by church member Zeke Mercer.

Though there’s a lot of activity around the church, Cochran said members know that the events are all for a purpose—to glorify God and advance His kingdom.

“While our heart is to build long term redemptive relationships, ultimately we want to help others to see Jesus, whether they come to our church or not,” he said.

By Sharon Mager
BCM/D Correspondent