Giving back wakes sleeping church


 Rita Talle helps prepare a free community-wide dinner sponsored by Durand United Methodist Church.  The church uses donations received at these special dinners to fund a variety of monthly ministries – including a food pantry – in their community of Durand, Wisconsin.  Photo by Bruce Gardow.

By Susan Passi-Klaus

The hundred or so folks at Durand United Methodist Church in Durand. Wis. decided their church could use a wake-up call.

Last July, administrative council members got together with newly appointed pastor Bruce Gardow and asked themselves some tough questions.

“If we had kept on doing what we were doing, then we were going to remain the same and not get any new results,” Gardow said. “So we asked ourselves, ‘what can we do differently that will bring this church back to life again?’”

Their answer was to venture beyond the pulpit and pews and get out into the community. The idea to have a regular mission project took hold, and ever since, church members have picked a monthly need and then committed to “do something about it,” said Gardow.

The first thing on the drawing board was to convert their unused parsonage into a shelter for victims of domestic violence. Partnering with The Bridge for Hope, a county-wide program that helps abused women and children, Durand UMC offered to lease the organization its church house for $1 a year. In addition, they put out the word that furniture, clothing, toys and supplies were needed for the shelter. The congregation, as well as the local community, stepped forward to make the house into a home. 

In the months that followed, the congregation reached out to its small town neighbors, doing everything from collecting and distributing school clothes and stocking the shelves of the local Ronald McDonald House to sending care packages to active duty military people and raising funds by hosting a dinner to help a nearby community that suffered flooding. Additionally, a free community-wide Thanksgiving dinner was served so people wouldn’t have to be alone on the holiday. A free will offering was taken and all the proceeds went to the local food pantry.

“What it has taught us is that we don’t need a lot of money to be a vital growing church,” Gardow said. “Rather than hold out our hand and ask for money, we can hold out our hand and offer to help.”

And the “giving back first” strategy is apparently working. Membership is going up. Giving has gone up. Average weekly attendance is up. Inactive members are starting to come back and Durand UMC is even attracting the elusive 20 and 30-year-olds that traditionally stay away from church.

“With the economy the way it is, people are looking for something solid and stable in their lives,” the pastor said. “They’re coming back to church because it offers them the balance they’re seeking.”

Gardow chalks it up to people wanting to make a difference.

“Deep down inside everybody wants to help someone else – they want to do good,” he said. “The problem is that they don’t know how to do it. What we’ve been able to do is help people find a format – a way they can be part of a group that is active in something bigger than themselves,” Gardow said.

“You’ve heard the old saying about letting a sleeping dog lie? Well, we gave him a kick and look what happened!”

The weekend of April 24 and 25, members of Durand United Methodist Church will join 11 million United Methodists in helping to Change the World. To improve the world within their reach, the congregation will donate their time and resources to helping people in their church and community do what they cannot do for themselves, whether it’s providing a meal, performing a chore, or planting a garden.


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