The Presbyterian Church of Ruston, Louisiana, felt like it needed a boost. The small, aging congregation was in good shape; they didn’t have any major problems, having healed from a rift years ago.

Of course, they wanted young children and families, but they weren’t dying, and they weren’t panicking.

“But we felt like we need a shot in the arm,” says Commissioned Ruling Elder Edith Hill, who has provided pastoral leadership to the congregation for eight years.

“We wanted to think differently—in new ways.”

The Presbytery of the Pines was encouraging its congregations in southern Arkansas and northern Louisiana to go through New Beginnings.

This discipleship assessment and process from Church Growth Ministries, offered through Presbyterian Mission Agency, helps churches discern how to follow Jesus into their communities, to minister in the 21st century.

 “We average about 50 in worship,” says Hill. “Forty-five showed up for our small-group meetings, where we studied Scripture together and prayed. We also talked a lot about the demographics [of] our church.”

Hill says the congregation has always been a part of the Ruston community—as a downtown church near the edge of a neighborhood in decline. By prompting conversation about life outside the walls of their church, New Beginnings helped the congregation to see themselves, and those around them, differently. They came up with a list of things they felt they could do—or discover—in their neighborhood.

“We began to realize that we could either ‘sit in our building’ and grow old together or move out into the community, to be the hands, feet, eyes, and ears of Jesus.”

Suddenly Hill heard her congregation saying things like “Oh, we could that” when ministry needs in the community would arise.

Below are examples of what the congregation said yes to and the unexpected blessing that came—in Hill’s words—as a result of being in the community.

Louisiana congregation building new relationships at a monthly community meal —Presbyterian Church of Ruston

  • Participating in a monthly community meal, a new ministry in town: “Everybody in town is invited, so the economic level doesn’t matter. We are rubbing shoulders with the homeless, doctors, and everybody in between.”
  • Providing Communion monthly to residents in a long-term care facility: “When it came time for World Communion Sunday, we realized we had world Communion every month with those we’ve come to love—Catholics, Methodists, Pentecostals, Baptists, and Presbyterians.”
  • Raising money (more than $45,000) for Habitat to build a house: “Even though most of us couldn’t participate physically, we could be and were a part of those who could. Right after that, folks said, ‘What now?’ They are now in the process of raising $25,000 for Synod of Living Waters’ Living Waters for the World.”
  • Adopting the golf team at Louisiana Tech University: “We now have relationships with that age group.”
  • Buying snacks for and doing volunteer reading at two elementary schools: “People who see us in the community now are beginning to say, ‘Oh, you’re the Presbyterians who are helping out at our schools.’ ”

Hill says she keeps hearing the congregation make references to how God has used New Beginnings to change them: “ ‘I look at things so differently now,’ they say.”

“I don’t know if you can make this correlation, but we are averaging 56 now in worship; that’s a big jump for us,” says Hill. “Several younger folks are coming. People feel good about what is happening in the church and community, so they’re more welcoming.”

“Was it New Beginnings?” she asks.

“All I know is we are trying to be followers of Jesus, looking at our community more honestly, not through rose-colored glasses. We live in a nice town; it’s a great place for children, but it’s not that way for everybody here.

“It was important for us to recognize that. Honestly, . . . we quite navel gazing, and decided to get into the mix of it and act out our faith.”