Rev. Tiffany Chaney explores new model for young adults in Alabama
Wondering what to do about declining church attendance is a common activity among church leaders today. Actually finding solutions? Not so much.
Rev. Tiffany Chaney (LTSP, 2012) is reinventing “church” in two ways through her role as pastor. She is planting a successful ministry, Gathered by Grace (GBG), for young adults — in the 18- to 40-year-old range — in Montgomery, AL, and she is a bi-vocational pastor, working as System Director of Business Development for Baptist Health.
“As far as my working life, the roles of business development and mission development in ministry are complementary,” Rev. Chaney said. “There are important skills and attitudes that are the same. There are times when things overlap, but in general there are pieces that work well together.”
Gathered by Grace meets every Tuesday at Newk’s Restaurant and holds an online Bible study session every Sunday night. The group has chosen ongoing service projects that create “little libraries” in underserved communities. They also support literacy by raising funds and donating to reading programs in Montgomery schools. So far, GBG has reached ten schools.
Rev. Chaney stresses that GBG’s model is not “better” than a traditional church model, but is “a different way for young adults to engage faith. Gathered by Grace meets on Tuesday nights in a restaurant. Traditional churches often have mid-week services and studies; but, being in a restaurant gives a different feel, especially for people who may find a church building to be a barrier. Also, the online format works well for people who have challenges getting to a physical space.”
Besides the convenience of online fellowship and a non-Sunday “in person” meeting, GBG also provides something that many traditional churches struggle with, “being able to have a space where their voices are heard, and where they can discern their faith without judgment. Those things are more important than where and when we meet.”
The new model has attracted many grateful families. “As a homeschooling mom of two school-aged children, and a recent new parent for the third time, it is a great blessing to be able to participate in an online Bible study community through Gathered by Grace,” said GBG member Morissa Tuck. “In this season of my life, it is not as convenient to attend the in-person sessions, but this alternative allows me to connect with the faith community without sacrificing the current needs within my home. Pastor Tiffany leads each session with thought-provoking and informative topics that I am able to share with my husband and meditate on each week, applying as necessary to my daily life and journey as a believer. I am grateful for the opportunity to engage with others and remain an active participant within the ministry of Gathered by Grace.”
“What we are looking to do is to engage more deeply in the community,” Rev. Chaney said, with outreach to college campuses and other efforts, “we are building awareness of God’s grace, that we are here for them, and that is continuing to spread. It may come in creating new spaces, and we are open to that.”
GBG has a traditional church partner, Messiah Lutheran in Montgomery, that provides an administrative home and other supports, but mostly GBG is on its own and rapidly learning a new kind of ministry. “I think I have learned that there are plenty of people out there” who are searching for new ways to worship and serve. “I am particularly sensitive to the fact that there are a lot of people who treat young adults as a monolithic group, and that is not the case. They are dynamic folks who want to grow in their faith in Christ, and they want a space to develop that.”
Aside from the challenges of forging a ministry outside of the four church walls, the bi-vocational aspect of Rev. Chaney’s work also has an impact on her ministry. “There are challenges around time, around setting clear boundaries about when I can be available,” Rev. Chaney said. “There has to be a clear covenant between congregation and pastor, and I have to create expectations for myself about both vocations and self care. But my experience as a bi-vocational mission developer will be different than that of a pastor from a traditional congregation doing something similar. There has to be a shift in culture which is harder to do.”
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