By Sharon Mager
DUNDALK, Md.—Grace Place, the church formerly known as Woolford Memorial Baptist Church, has once again morphed. The name is the same, but the church is now autonomous. They have a new pastor, Troy McDaniel, and most of the congregation is new.
The 68-year-old building is located on Delvale Avenue in in a blue-collar neighborhood just a few miles southeast of Baltimore City. In 2009, members of Woolford, working with the North American Mission Board’s Embrace Baltimore team, voted unanimously to give the property to North Arundel Church (NAC). Once a thriving large congregation, the church had dwindled to a group of 30 and most were senior citizens. NAC stepped in and transformed the building and worship to a more contemporary facility. The new “Grace Place” was a campus ministry of NAC. The church had new life.
James Pope, pastor of North Arundel Church, said the satellite ministry was successful, effective and challenging, but Pope began to realize after several years, that Grace Place needed to be more indigenous.
“What we didn’t see happening…is that sense of ownership in respect to ministry. They just saw themselves as an extension of NAC,” he said.
When Dallas Bumgarner, the Grace Place campus pastor, retired, Pope felt it was the right time to transition again. They began a pastor search and felt McDaniel was the perfect fit. NAC still helps, providing administrative and technical support. Pope meets and mentors McDaniel.
As with many church transitions, some left, but for every two that walked out, three walked in. McDaniel said if the trend continues, he expects to double attendance by December.
“Satan is really beating us up,” McDaniel cheerfully admits, “but lives have been changed. People are coming out of addiction, and they’re serving. It’s kind of amazing.”
Since McDaniel began ministering at Grace Place in January, he’s seen the church grow from an average of 35 to an average of around 50 with an attendance high of 95. The church is a mixture of ages, but McDaniel said the church is getting “younger all the time.” They started reaching out to new people originally through two small groups, one at the church and one in a home.
“Small group ministry is the foundation for our church,” McDaniel says. “That’s where my vision began for this church. Small Groups are where we meet to learn about Christ, with the purpose of spiritual discipleship, mutual edification, planned relational evangelism, with the goal of multiplication.”
McDaniel is a ball of energy, moving quickly, getting excited and talking fast, laughing easily and not hesitant to proactively share Christ. That attitude is contagious in the church.
He regularly “street walks,” traipsing through local neighborhoods, areas some consider unsafe. With his purposeful shaggy hair and beard, his backpack strewn over his shoulder, he’s accepted and has an opportunity to meet people literally where they are.
“It works,” he said. “Most of the people I’ve led to Christ have been outside of the church walls.”
Grace Place members had a “Welcome Back to School” morning for parents of Norwood Elementary students, offering cookies, ice water and information about the church after they said goodbye to their children on the first day back to class.
One of their most exciting outreaches is to a Sikh community. There is a Sikh temple right on the very edge of the church parking lot. McDaniel and several Grace Place members participated in a vision tour, visiting the temple and working to build friendships. McDaniel invited the Sikh group to share parking space with Grace Place and invited them to the church’s autumn picnic.
McDaniel is excited. The church is building steam, ready to take off in a new direction.
Pope shares McDaniel’s enthusiasm and is looking forward to see what God will do.
“The dust will settle, and they will celebrate what has transpired and they will have a future–their future, not ours,” Pope said.