Monthly Archives: October 2016

GO OUTSIDE!

SEABROOKS SAYS: Our churches have been in decline for decades.  Do we really want this?  Dwayne Burks draws an interesting conclusion of churches and the “Go Outside” campaign in Gaston. NOW THAT YOU KNOW, WHAT WILL YOU DO?

Recently our community rolled out a new branding slogan that encourages us to GO OUTSIDE. It seems to be having an impact. In fact, last week I found myself referencing the slogan when I shared our county’s many outdoor attractions with an out-of-town customer service operator who took my refrigerator repair call. Before we hung up, he was convinced to visit the U.S. National Whitewater Center and Crowder’s Mountain State Park. GO OUTSIDE is catching on!

I thought about this new slogan in relation to the plethora of churches scattered across our county. The local Economic Development Commission reports that we have over 700 houses of worship right here in Gaston County.  If my math is correct this means we have a church positioned every half mile for every 297 individuals.

The reasons for so many churches is perhaps another story for another day. But the question for today is what is it that causes certain churches to thrive while others seem to falter or barely get by? Why do some churches pack the pews, while others have more pews than people?  Could it be that some of our churches starting grasping the GO OUTSIDE message long before it was enlisted as community catchphrase?

Christ charged the church to GO OUTSIDE over 2000 years ago by challenging us to, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel.”  In fact, Christian churches routinely refer to Christ’s instruction to GO OUTSIDE as the church’s Great Commission.  Furthermore, we couple the Great Commission to GO OUTSIDE with the Great Command to love our neighbors as ourselves.

This sounds an awful lot like the philosophy of First United Methodist’s Rev. David Christy who sums it up using all the sophistication of his Duke Divinity degree when he says, “It ain’t rocket science. We are here to love God and love people.”

Growing, thriving churches seem to GO OUTSIDE, motivated by their love God and their love for others.   Healthy churches do not wait for people to come to them. Instead they GO OUTSIDE their doors and engage their communities.  It may be as simple as greeting neighbors on the street or getting to know homeless in the street. But times are different and traditions die hard.  A generation ago we could open the doors and people would show up.   Churches were the centerpieces of community communication, activities, and recreation.  But times have changed. Communication channels are not limited to a weekly meeting down at the church.  Today we communicate instantaneously.  What once required hours, days, or sometimes weeks to filter down is literally in the palms of our hands.  Likewise, people are more mobile than ever before. Church has become just one of the many options on our map of weekly things to do and places to visit.  But that does not mean the church needs to fade into obscurity. It means we have the greatest opportunity ever to open our doors the other way and GO OUTSIDE.  The world is abuzz with activity where we can do what Jesus told us to do a long time ago – GO OUTSIDE!

While programs coordinate and support this going outside; programs do not dictate it. Healthy churches GO OUTSIDE not with out of a sense of obligation or forced outreach.  Rather, both pastors and parishioners GO OUTSIDE fueled by the genuine desire to love their neighbors as themselves. So the challenge for churches is clear.  How will we move from merely coming to church to actually being the church?  How will we love our neighbors as ourselves if they are not coming to us?  What if we take our lead from Christ and from the growing churches around us and GO OUTSIDE?

Dwayne Burks serves as the Chaplain and Director of Social Responsibility for the Gaston County Family YMCA.
Phone or text: 704.860.2957.
Email: dburks@gastonymca.org

Gaston County: Love It or Leave It?

SEABROOKS SAYS: Jason Shoemaker is right – how you describe our county to others, either in the county or outside the county, will make a difference.  As he says, you don’t have to love Gaston County or leave it, but at least be proud of the positive things happening here. Now that you know, what will you do?   

“Love it or Leave it.” Some pro-war demonstrators used this phrase during the divisive Vietnam War. We have heard it many times in our lives, usually in reference to issues of national debate. Of course, this binary choice is not fair. One of the great things about our nation is the ability to express dissent, displeasure, and even dislike of the United States. That freedom of expression is a foundation of our democracy.

Although the “love it or leave it” statement itself may not be fair, the phrase reminds me of something meaningful that a friend once told me. He and I were discussing Gaston County, in particular how many residents reluctantly and sheepishly admit that they live or work here. When some citizens tell others that they are from Gastonia, or even Gaston County,  they lower their heads or go along with a degrading joke about the area. To this point, my friend questioned, “If you are not proud of something, why be a part of it?” Gaston County citizens should ask themselves this question.

We are all part of the Gaston County community. Although you may not agree with everything — and certainly there is room for improvement — we have seen many positive changes in the County during the past 13 years that I have lived here. Gastonia overcame the loss of thousands of textile jobs in the 1990s. Our local hospital has become a well known regional medical center. Centered around Crowders Mountain, the western part of the county has become an attraction for outdoor enthusiasts. Belmont and Mount Holly have become destinations in the eastern part of the county. Cramerton and McAdenville firmly established themselves as vibrant, small town communities with their own unique identities. And the list goes on. Not everyone will be a cheerleader for their city or county, but at least acknowledge the positive efforts.

Regardless of whether you chose to relocate here, moved here for work (like I did), or have lived in Gaston County all your life, we almost certainly share a similar goal – to make this county a better place (after all, it would be hard to imagine anyone hoping for their hometown or home county to decline or fail). With that in mind, the next time someone asks where you live, do not be afraid to tell them. When someone makes a negative joke or comment about the area, tell them something positive. Speak about downtown Belmont, Goat Island Park, Crowders Mountain, Loray Mill, or the multi-use stadium district which will transform the western part of Gastonia. Even if you do not give the person specifics, remind him or her that we are trying to make Gaston County a better place.

This is our community. How you describe it to others, either in the county or outside the county, will make a difference. You don’t have to love Gaston County or leave it, but at least be proud of the positive things happening here.

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Jason Shoemaker

Attorney
Mullen, Holland and Cooper, PA