Photo by Randy Fath
Dalton, Ohio, is a small town of small churches.
The one exception is Living Water Community Church. The healthy Free Methodist congregation’s attendance equals approximately one-third of Dalton’s population (1,830 in the 2010 census). Living Water continues to grow as its members pursue the church’s vision of being real, relevant and relentless.
“We’re real people living relevant lives relentlessly pursuing new life,” Lead Pastor Mark Hirst said. “That vision came out of our leadership team, and really it was a picture of who we already are and who we want to become as well.”
Hirst explained the need for people to be “real in our relationship with one another and to God.” He said Living Water strives to be “relevant in how we present ourselves, especially to those who don’t know who Jesus Christ is yet.”
Keeping It Simple
Free Methodist founder B.T. Roberts wrote in 1874, “There should be simplicity in our purposes and motives.”
Living Water also emphasizes simplicity. The church limits its focus to five areas: children’s ministry, student ministry, worship services, outreach and adult small groups.
“Keeping things simple is very helpful,” said Hirst, who added that some churches mistakenly believe “a church with a busy schedule is effective,” but “that’s not necessarily true.”
Serving All Ages
Hirst joined Living Water in 1999 as the youth pastor. Now, as the lead pastor, he continues to see ministry to children and teenagers as essential to church health. The church’s LW Kids ministry and EPIC student ministry attract unchurched families and also provide a foundation of discipleship for young believers.
“We want to make sure students feel heard, known and loved,” said John Grandy, Living Water’s director of student ministry.
Unlike some churches, Living Water schedules its child and youth programs so that families can still
attend worship services together.
“We feel it’s essential for families to worship together and to not separate them out of that worship time,” Hirst said.
Director of Worship Arts Phil Haydn said it can be challenging to find music that connects to both 10-year-olds and 80-year-olds along with people from different backgrounds. Haydn said Living Water uses an “ancient-future model of worship” that mixes new songs with traditional hymns performed in a modern style.
Living Water connects with its local community and the rest of the world.
“We tithe the offering we’re given to support outreach around the world,” Hirst said.
At the local level, the church has a reputation in Dalton for helping people in need through efforts that include fixing the cars and roofs of residents who can’t afford to pay for repairs. Local school employees call the church when students and their families need help.
To encourage connection, the church added the Connection Pointe café (fmchr.ch/lwcpointe).
“It’s fundamentally changed how we do church,” Hirst said. “If you want to connect to somebody, you know exactly where you can go.”
To learn more about Living Water Community Church, visit livingwaterfmc.org.0