Show Notes

What do you do when you know there are people in your small town who need a community and a place to learn about Jesus, but they aren’t coming to your church? Sharon White led her church through a process of listening for needs and opportunities in their small town of Waco, Ga. When they discovered a shared passion for Bluegrass music they prayed for God’s help to start something new. 

Today, in their town of barely 500, 100 people show up for the West Georgia Opry every weekend. Listen to hear the full story.

Rev. Sharon White serves as Pastor of Waco UMC and Fresh Expressions Cultivator for the North Georgia Conference within the United Methodist Church. She feels called to minister to those on the fringe through acts of mercy and social justice and is passionate about finding creative ways to connect non-churchgoers to God.

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Related Resources:

Pioneer Learning Cohort

Fresh Expressions Books

A special thank you to Alabaster Grace Ministries for their music.

Join our Facebook group: Rural Renewal Podcast Community

Email us: podcasts@freshexpressions.com

Interview Summary

We always learn that you start a fresh expression where what you love meets what the community needs. And the interesting thing about bluegrass is I do not love bluegrass.

Sharon White

In today’s discussion, we dive into an enlightening interview with Sharon White, a pioneering pastor at Waco United Methodist Church in rural Georgia. Against the backdrop of conservative traditions and the unique challenges of a small-town setting, Sharon introduces a compelling model of church called “fresh expressions.” This model tailors church activities to meet the diverse and specific needs of local communities, stepping beyond the conventional to engage the unchurched or disenchanted.

Sharon White serves as a pastor in a small, rural church close to the Alabama border in Waco, Georgia. Her journey into pastoral leadership in a community unaccustomed to female pastors brings a refreshing perspective on service and engagement. Her work exemplifies how innovative approaches can turn challenges into vibrant opportunities for community building and spiritual engagement.

Community Engagement and Listening

Sharon’s approach starts with listening—understanding the community’s needs by interacting directly with its members. This involved speaking with local leaders and engaging in activities that are not traditionally associated with church functions, like organizing bluegrass music events.

So we kind of just do a buffet style. And, we did a chili contest and we had ten people bring pots of chili, and it was very competitive. I won, and they all still say it. You know, we’re not allowed to enter the contest, but that created this environment where the people who are coming feel connected, where they feel like they’re a part of it.

Implementing the West Georgia Opry

Despite her initial disinterest in bluegrass music, Sharon recognized its value in community bonding and launched the “West Georgia Opry.” This initiative not only provided a platform for local musicians and community members to gather but also served as a bridge, drawing people into a supportive and spiritually nurturing environment.

Sharon shared, “We had over 400 people show up and come through our little church. We didn’t even have room for all of them. They were spread out on the back lawn and the front lawn, and there were cars for blocks and our little bathrooms. There’s like one bathroom for the men and women were just lined up and, I thought, oh my goodness, six months and we’ve outgrown this church.”

Challenges and Adaptations

Leading a church in a setting resistant to change, especially with a female pastor, posed significant challenges. However, Sharon’s persistence and innovative methods demonstrate how adaptive practices can overcome traditional barriers, making the church relevant and accessible to all community members.

Sharon White’s story is a testament to the power of adaptive religious practice and community-focused leadership. Her efforts in Waco show that when churches listen and respond to their communities’ needs, substantial growth and engagement can follow. The success of the West Georgia Opry highlights the potential for fresh expressions to rejuvenate community involvement and spiritual life in rural areas.

Reflection Questions

  1. How can other rural communities implement the concept of fresh expressions to engage their populations?
  2. How important is the role of community feedback in shaping church activities?
  3. What measures can be taken to ensure inclusivity and diversity in church-initiated community activities?
  4. How can churches balance tradition with innovation without alienating existing members?
  5. In what ways can non-traditional church activities improve community cohesion?
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