Bryan and Wendy Collier planted The Orchard, a United Methodist Congregation, with their friends in mind. In 1998 when they moved to Tupelo, Miss., statistics showed that 20,000 people in the Tupelo region didn’t have a relationship with Jesus or a connection to faith.
“We had lots of church-going friends, but we also had lots of disinterested friends in the area, and we wanted desperately to connect them to Jesus and a vibrant, disciple-making church,” Bryan said.
The Orchard began with 24 people who met in a furniture warehouse to discuss plans for a church plant. Their goal was to reach people that no one else was reaching. To do that, they resolved to preach the Gospel in non-traditional ways.
During the summer, the church hosts a summer reading program for children, kindergarten to third grade, who are behind in their reading level. In a camp-like atmosphere, volunteers help them improve their reading skills, as well as teach biblical values.
The Orchard doesn’t stop being part of the community when school starts. Every fall, the church throws a fall party for the entire Tupelo community, complete with music, games, food and candy.
However, they are committed to starting new ministries only where none exist. Instead, they fill existing ministries, such as the local food bank or the afternoon tutoring program, with volunteers.
“Our passion for church planting comes from our passion for lost people,” Bryan said.
In the six-month preparation period before the plant, the group of 24 expanded to 100. On launch day, that number more than doubled when 256 people attended the first service. Seventeen years later, The Orchard’s fruit has multiplied exponentially with seven sites in three communities and averages 2400 in weekly worship.
The Orchard believes the key to their growth is that they aren’t worried about the numbers. Instead, they seek to be the hands and feet of Jesus in the community.
“If we will do what is right for the Kingdom of Christ, it will always be what is right for our church,” Bryan said.
The Orchard recently launched its seventh campus called Thrive that focuses on addiction recovery. For some, Thrive is a recovery ministry; yet, for others Thrive is their church.
“Church planting is the single best way to reach unreached people,” Bryan said. “New churches can tailor their approach to reaching people based on what they are learning in a community about those people.”
Each of their seven sites has “missional latitude” to customize their outreach to the community, making each campus unique, instead of a “one-size-fits-all” ministry.
“I tell people we have an eclectic site, a country site, a Hispanic site, a recovery site and a high-maintenance site,” Bryan said. “Different communities. Different people. Different approaches.”
Bryan believes that “tailoring” the Gospel allows the church to contextually present it in a language easily understood by those in the community. Ironically, The Orchard is known as a place for “misfits.”
One woman new to the area even googled for a church “where misfits fit.” Finding no results, she asked the librarian for a recommendation. The librarian referred her to The Orchard, as a place that “will take anybody!”
“What is so great about that story is that the librarian didn’t even go to our church,” Bryan said. “That was a reputation we had gotten in the community, and we have been blessed with that reputation as God brought us all sorts of people.”
The Orchard expects to continue to plant sites in the years ahead where the Gospel is not being spoken, or in non-traditional ways.
“We believe that God will continue to give us leaders and a heart for communities around our state and nation where He wants to do a marvelous thing,” Bryan said.
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