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Click to listen to Jeremy Poland talk about Thrive in a conversation with Dr. Art McClanahan
Click here to watch the Thrive promo video
By Liz Winders*
Pastor Jeremy Poland has the energy it takes to show a new community of faith how to live like Jesus. He says that Thrive is a place where people can enjoy community, ask questions, and explore who they are and what they value so they can come together as a church, serve and change the community they live in.
Jeremy is one of the pastors at Thrive, a brand new United Methodist church in West Des Moines, Iowa and says that they are excited to try something new and to shake church up a bit. On Sunday worship at the new church, the traditional is mixed with contemporary music (you might even hear a tune or two from the radio) and casual attire. Jeremy encourages people to “come as they are” and you will probably see him wearing a t-shirt and jeans.
“Thrive is a mixed group of people from all walks of life with a lot of young energy and a mission to do just as its name implies…thrive. The name Thrive was chosen from a direct reference from John 10:10 where Jesus says ‘I came so that you might have life, and have it abundantly.’” Thrive’s vision statement is “To live abundantly in community through service” and Jeremy shortens it to their catch phrase of “Live Like Jesus.”
“The goal of the church isn’t to get people into the church; it is to get the church out in to the world. We are trying to equip people to live like Jesus, to be disciples and serve. Hopefully in all of their interactions, whether it is in business or with their friends or family, they are keeping the example of Jesus before them. (They are) not making it about themselves or their personal joy or happiness, but working together to serve for a bigger sense of happiness,” Jeremy explains.
Pastor Jeremy says the church is encouraging people to live this way by providing them with some tools. Thrive has built-in a few moments of silence during worship each week where people can reflect inward without all the noise and business of life in their way. Then together they look at the scripture to see the examples and values that Jesus has set forth, comparing the biblical times to now and how many of the struggles are still the same.
Jeremy says that everything about church planting has been surprising. He is surprised when people tell him after a service that the message was what they really needed to hear or how it helped them solidify a major life decision they were struggling with. And others have said to him that “the church has helped them find their sense of meaning and calling in their own lives and have found that affirming and encouraging.” He says, “It’s good to have a reminder that people do still care and want to make a difference in the world. They want to bring positive change and impact to the environments around them and they are not alone in that ambition.”
He is also surprised how much energy it takes to start a new community of faith. Jeremy says that they have found that they “get back the energy they put in and a little bit more. The church has a small group of very committed members that put most of the work in to set up for service. They say the experience is energizing and they get back from it all that they put in and then some and that it is miraculous.”
It has taken an abundant amount of energy to build the new community of faith and Jeremy says he can’t do it alone. He stays sustained and encouraged when, in precisely the moments he is feeling like he is not good enough or doesn’t know what he is doing, the evidence of God’s miracles happen and people will come out of nowhere to help and pick him back up. Jeremy says that he finds it freeing to know that it isn’t just him and the members building the new church but God and the Holy Spirit working through them that will make Thrive thrive!
Finding a Community within a Community
Part of the reason Jeremy was excited about the prospect of starting a new faith community was he was searching for a place where he could plug in, be challenged and grow. Jeremy talks about how people are looking for relationships and says, “Because of all the social media, because of all the noise and peoples busy schedules…there are moments of loneliness that pop up. Everybody has these excuses to not to engage. And a lot of people have found it easier to stay home and watch TV rather than connect with other folks.” What he has discovered in this “life giving” project is that when the people are able to set aside the distractions of life they find community, relationships and the Holy Spirit.
Luckily for Jeremy he is not doing it alone but with the help of Thrive’s other pastor, Jen Hibben. Jen “has the energy to match” Jeremy and “isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty!” Jen brings many gifts and talents to Thrive and has been essential in forming small groups as well as organizing and setting up of Sunday service.
Both pastors have young children and have families where growing churches was a part of their lives. Jeremy’s father is Rev. Bill Poland, Assistant to the Bishop of the Iowa Conference of The United Methodist Church. He was a teenager when his father started a church in the 1990’s. Jeremy explains the support that comes with being a Pastor’s child by saying, “I didn’t really appreciate it at the time…but as I got older and listened to other peoples stories about their upbringing, I realized that I had this huge advantage…my family was so much bigger than just the four of us…I was always watched over, encouraged and supported by the congregation.” Most of the launch team have young children and Jeremy has discovered the old saying “it takes a village to raise a child” to be very true. The joys and difficulties of being a parent, working full time, and being engaged in meaningful Christian service is shared because they are all actively living it together.
The main goal so far has been getting people together to share a time of celebration and having an entry point to relationship building. Their next step will begin in January when they will launch their big Small Group Initiative where deeper relationships will be formed. “Our dream is to have everyone who is a part of Thrive plugged in to some sort of small group or support ministry where they can form real intimate meaningful relationships with other folks,” says Pastor Jeremy. Thrive will continue to build their small groups with a second bigger push in October. Their goal is to have 70% of Thrive in some sort of small group. Their next phase, will be to encourage those groups to be intentional about serving outside of the church in the community with people who are not a part of a church family.
Thrive United Methodist Church meets at Western Hill Elementary, 600 39th Street, West Des Moines, with a goal and dream to move west in the future. For more information, visit them at www.thriveumc.org or follow them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/thriveumc
*This story was written by Liz Winders from Dr. Art McClanahan's inteview of Jeremy Poland.