New church is so far out of the box it doesn't have walls

Sandra Brands
8/3/2010

 

Walking into a church building for the first time can be intimidating.
 
That’s not the case with Grace Adventure United Methodist Church. The congregation doesn’t have a building. In fact, strictly speaking, there isn’t much of a congregation—yet.
 
But that’s starting to change, said Annette Snedaker, the 29-year-old local pastor, who with lay person Maureen Gilli, felt God was calling them to start something new in the Greater Binghamton area, something “where people could be part of the creation of a new church.
 
“So many youth and young adults—even people in their 40s--are scared to step inside a church building because [the congregation] already has set traditions and ways of doing things,” she said during a recent interview. “We forget when we’re already church-goers what it’s like to walk into a church.”
 
That’s one of the reasons, Snedaker said, they don’t’ have a building—and don’t plan to have one. They meet in places where people already congregate: hotel lobbies, bars, coffee shops, and they have been aggressively using social media networking to invite people to participate.
 
Earlier this summer, Grace Adventure United Methodist Church posted a message on Facebook, inviting anyone interested to join them at a local store front for free bubble tea.
 
Bubble tea?
 
A trendy drink out of Asia, bubble tea is a mixture of fruit syrup, black tea and tapioca pearls. “It’s a fun way to drink tea,” Snedaker said.
 
The Grace Adventure launch team, which has grown to 10 include people, thought the unexpectedness of offering bubble tea might attract attention. Previously, they had offered to buy people coffee at a local donut shop, but no one came.
 
“We thought we’d get about 30 [people at the bubble tea],” Snedaker laughed. “That’s not what happened.”
 
The invitation went viral, she said. Someone would reply that they would come to the event, and their acceptance would post on their Facebook page. Friends would see it, and they, too, would accept the invitation.
“That’s how you end up with 361 people coming for free bubble tea,” she said.
 
The 361 people who came to the event were mostly young adults. “The line was out the door and down the sidewalk,” she said.
 
True to the reason for the event, Snedaker said the 10 members of the launch team came prepared with flyers about Grace Adventure United Methodist Church and upcoming events. They also decided to celebrate the first anniversary of the congregation and handed out free cupcakes.
 
“It was a festive, fun event,” Snedaker said.
 
Team members made sure to follow-up after the event, she said, contacting every one of the 361 people who joined them for tea. And while the team is not sure how many people will come out for future events, Snedaker said she is in dialogue with 10 or 15 people from the early July event. One young woman has expressed such a deep interest in the church Snedaker believes she will join the launch team.
“We said if we had 400 people show up [for an event] and we get five consistent people involved, we’ll consider it a success,” she said.
 
On Aug. 6, the congregation will hold a flash mob for hunger. Originally, a form of performance art, flash mobs bring people together in a specific location at specific time, often just for the sake of coming together. Grace Adventure United Methodist Church is bringing people together during the 26th Annual Spedie Fest and Balloon Rally held at Otsiningo Park in Binghamton to collect items for the Community Hunger Outreach Warehouse (CHOW), a food pantry in Endicott.
 
“Some of the people who came to the bubble tea are coming to the Flash Mob, “she said. “We’ll pull people from Binghamton and beyond. That’s possible because of social networking.”
 
Other upcoming events, such as a roller skating party, a bonfire and an upcoming service project in the Catskills are also being promoted through social media networking.
 
“We find that the social networking sites are today’s way of communicating,” Snedaker said. “That’s because that’s where young adults are today. That’s how they communicate.”
 
But it isn’t just about getting people to an event, Snedaker says. The launch team is building a congregation and because they are a church without walls, they are holding events that let people in the community know who and what they are, giving others an opportunity to see if they want to make Grace Adventure United Methodist Church their church home.
 
Weaving in mission projects with events, Snedaker said, is a way to give people an opportunity to help others. “Once they are part of something spiritually-based, they realize that this is making them feel really good and more complete, so they’ll come back,” she said.
 
“A lot of times you don’t know what you’re missing until you get a taste of it,” she said. “A structured church environment is tough for young adults and youth. They want to know they aren’t going to be told what to think, and that they’ll have the space and freedom to develop their own theology and own views.
 
“Grace Adventure wants to get out into the community and say very directly, ‘we will not judge you, we want you just the way you are’. We are journeying, we will explore the Bible together and we’ll also explore other things together,” she said.
 
That’s what the unorthodox church says on their Facebook fan page: “Grace Adventure is a church without a building! We go places. We help people. We have fun together. We keep things simple. We wear jeans. We want to make a difference in the community and offering support to one another. So check out our activities and come meet up with us on one of our adventures!
 
“We are way past being out of the box. We are out of the building!”
 
Snedaker and the launch team like being out of a building because it “forces us to be present in our community. If we don’t have a building, it means we’re meeting in public spaces where people see who we are. It keeps us mission-oriented, to be present and do things in the community.”
 
They also chose not to be burdened with the expenses of supporting a building. “We’d rather put that money into something else,” she said. 
 
For more information about Grace Adventure UMC and its mission, contact Snedaker at taekwannet@hotmail.com