Contact, contemporary worship at Trinity UMC in Homewood, Alabama (South Central District), is a modern Christian worship experience that combines historic elements, sensory experiences and a casual environment. Contact is reaching a wide variety of people from those who are “unchurched” to those who are nominally religious to life-long church members. Over the last two years Contact has grown from 172 people each week to a weekly average of 486 at the close of 2014. This is an increase of 282%.
“I think our niche has been in translating the historic elements of Christian worship into language and experiences that connect with people through hearing, seeing, tasting and doing,” says Rev. Nathan Carden, Trinity’s Minister of Outreach & Contact Worship. “We have multiple scripture readings each week, say the Lord’s Prayer, recognize the major seasons and feast days in the Christian calendar, and celebrate Holy Communion over half the Sundays of the year.”
He adds, “I think unchurched people and marginally religious people are hungry for a faith that has been tested over time. I am convinced that people are thirsting for Living Water, not another fog machine, flashing lights or a preacher in skinny jeans. That’s the best part to me. We really aren’t doing anything innovative in Contact, yet God is. How can we say how thankful we are to feel the wind of the Holy Spirit blowing through the walls of our church?”
Trinity UMC Senior Pastor Dr. Andy Wolfe notes that the growth of Contact has led to the addition of a second Contact worship service each week beginning in the fall of 2013. “Through Contact, many new people are finding their way back into the church. It has become a way to reach a new demographic group extending the church’s reach into the community. Excellence in music and preaching, I believe, have been the key components in its success.”
Trinity UMC member Carol Doby says “I think unchurched friends are drawn to this type of setting due to the lack of pressure to conform to a certain mold. The worship and dress promote a “come as you are” approach and during the service the feeling of a family exudes.”
Amanda Akers agrees. Amanda is a young adult who was baptized with her mother and father in the spring 2014. She notes, “Contact is the first place I have ever truly felt at home in worship. I have never felt so much authenticity from ‘organized religion’ anywhere else. The warmth of the congregation and passion of the Contact staff mean so much to me and my family.”
New member Keith Andress says contact has also provided a positive place for his family, “The Contact experience is energizing and uplifting. My family leaves worship service feeling great and ready for the coming week.”
Lifelong Trinity UMC member Christopher Bailey agrees that God is changing lives through the Contact worship experience. “We chose Contact for our service because we leave changed. From the time it starts with incredible and intimate worship to the time it ends with a heartfelt benediction, my wife and I feel like the Holy Spirit is working among every person in attendance. The growth over the last year is an example of how this service is changing the lives of both church members and other members of the Birmingham community.”
The Contact service first began in April 2004. Rev. Carden notes, “When I arrived in 2012, Contact had been growing and was a very healthy worshiping community. They already had a great team of lay leaders who were committed to offering a warm and hospitable environment. We want visitors to sense our excitement that they are with us and the spirit of anticipation we have for encountering the spirit of the risen Christ in worship.
“Our worship leader, Trey Hill, started the same Sunday I did. Early on we learned the community and church culture together. It is such a gift to work with Trey, assistant leader Jesse Davis, and their lay team of talented and spiritually grounded singers and musicians each week.
“In our first six months, we worked with lay leaders to prayerfully assembled a vision statement that guides our worship design week to week and through the seasons of the years: Contact Worship exists to Glorify God and Experience God’s Transforming Grace through Offering Modern Expressions of Historic Christian worship.
“We take what we do quite seriously and prepare to offer our best each week. We pray together each week that God will lead us to design a worship service in which all the elements clearly connect and express the message for the day,” he adds.
Trinity UMC offers four worship opportunities each Sunday morning: two Sanctuary services (traditional) and two Contact worship services (contemporary) respectively at 8:45 a.m. and 11 a.m. Trinity’s average worship attendance in 2014 was 1407. This is the highest average worship attendance in the congregation’s history.
When a congregation offers a variety of worship services and worship times there is the risk for feelings of separation within the congregation. Rev. Carden explains how the Trinity UMC leadership works to avoid that. “All the clergy work together intentionally to be one church that offers a variety of worship experiences. We plan joint worship series we share as a whole church, and through our church-wide mission initiatives, fellowship opportunities, and discipleship venues, we create opportunities for brothers and sisters to share life together.”
He adds, “I am deeply grateful for the support of Dr. Andy Wolfe over the last two years and now I am excited to work with our Senior Pastor Designate Rev. Brian Erickson to see what God will be up to next at Trinity.”
Click the video below for a visual experience of Contact.