Pastors of 4 Memphis Conference churches share what their churches did to get 'One Matters' award


This past June, four churches received the One Matters Discipleship Award during the 2017 Memphis Annual Conference in Collierville, Tennessee.

David Abarca, assistant director of annual conference relationships with Discipleship Ministries, presented the award, which recognizes churches that have moved from zero professions of faith and baptisms to positive numbers. Each award included a $1,000 gift.

The pastors of each church reflected on the factors that led to new growth in their congregations.

RONNIE BURKEEN, pastor of Russell Chapel UMC in Murray, Kentucky

“It is the simplest of responses,” Burkeen said. “The Lord answered our prayers.”

Burkeen said after he took leadership of the church, they began experimenting with new forms of ministry.

“We have incorporated outdoor services and Friends Day,” he said. “We also have casual Sundays in our fellowship hall as some of our new ways to worship a few times a year.”

The church also formed a missions team that generated neighborhood projects such as community dinners, a clothing closet and a food pantry that recently fed a record-setting 69 people. New volunteers have also signed up to assist with their long-running bus ministry.

Burkeen said the involvement of church members and God’s provision, rather than his leadership, has made growth at Russell Chapel UMC possible.

“This little church with big ideas has some wonderful people in it,” he said. “They are correct in saying that God answers prayers because without Him none of this would be possible.”

DAVID HORNE, pastor of Campground UMC in Drummonds, Tennessee

Horne attributes the spike in church attendance at Campground UMC to interfacing directly with the community.

“Showing love and compassion face to face has resulted in people coming to church and joining the church,” he said.

Horne said that compassion means reaching people at their level, whether through door-to-door outreach or events like cookouts that are open to the community. He said following up with people after the first contact made a huge difference in developing relationships.

At the end of the day, Horne said his ministry had only one goal: “Reaching people who are hurting in this world.”

SYLVIA NEWMAN, pastor of Atwood UMC in Atwood, Tennessee

Newman said she has specifically tailored her worship services to involve the children of Atwood UMC, with messages focusing on God’s absolute love “for all His kids.”

“As a pastor my heart goes out to the children,” she said. “[I try] to  involve  them in as much as possible during worship times, holy communion, offering and helping me to pray for their concerns.”

Newman said despite her efforts, she knows God leads people into a relationship with Him.

“He does the rest as He calls them to the altar,” she said. “Love is the key.”

JAMES PARIS, pastor of New Life UMC in Ripley, Tennessee

Paris said when visitors come to check out New Life UMC, he encourages them to worship however they like.

“We try to make people welcome, and ask them to worship God in the way that they feel that God wants them to worship Him,” he said. “To not be ashamed of Him and worship.”

He said worship services at New Life UMC take many forms, from testimony services to special music presentations. The youth have formed a Spirit Squad that travels to sing at other churches. Spiritual Support Teams meet several times a week to provide accountability and encouragement.

Paris said New Life UMC just needed to share truth and love when God called new people through its doors. “God sent the people, and we gave them the Word,” he said.

When it comes to growing God’s kingdom in their churches, Paris summed up the reflections of all four pastors: ”What worked for our church? Jesus did.”