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Members, youth minister reflect on church’s successes, challenges

FAIRFAX, VA. — To help understand what makes the Fairfax church work, The Christian Chronicle interviewed more than three dozen ministers, elders and members.

Among those interviewed were Sunday school teacher and Florida native Leann Aileen Alwood; church member Jack Hicks, a father of three young boys; and youth minister Chris Bedard, a graduate of Abilene Christian University.

By Bobby Ross Jr.
The Christian Chronicle

December 1, 2005

FAIRFAX, VA. – Each morning, LeannAileen Alwood catches a neighborhood bus to the Pentagon, where she takes aMetro train to the U.S. Capitol. The auditor’s commute to her job at the SenateCommittee on Rules and Administration takes about an hour and 10 minutes.

But when Alwood,27, rented a new town home this fall,she moved closer to church — not work.

Alwood, a Florida native baptized while studying accounting at the University of Alabama,teaches the Fairfaxchurch’s Seedlings class for babies up to 12 months and hosts a Sundayafternoon small-group meeting in her home.


What makes Fairfax work?

It’s a combination ofthings. … We have a great congregation that cares very much about making surethat visitors are talked to, that souls are shown Jesus, and that we reallybring to them what Jesus does to our lives.

You had nine babiesin class today. That’s a lot.

That’s the most I’vehad since I started teaching the class almost a year ago. I love it and Iwouldn’t trade watching those babies grow and being the beginning of their Sundayschool life for anything.

Tell me about whatsmall groups mean to you and Fairfax.

It’s an amazing wayfor people to really feel like part of the community. It’s hard for someone toget lost in the shuffle when you’ve got small groups that really bring peoplein. For a smaller church, this might not be necessary simply because everyonewould pretty much know each other. But for our church, it is a faith builderand a backbone to our church growth.

How do handle theconstant influx of people?

We have newperspectives. We have new souls to learn about. It’s just like, “Who am I goingto meet today?”


You mentioned thatyou’re a conservative guy and that the church’s monthly instrumental praisegatherings on Saturday nights “don’t work” for you. How big an issue is that?

It’s not for me, butit works for some people. … No matter where you are in your walk, I think youkeep your focus on Jesus first.

What if instrumentswere used in Sunday morning worship?

Then I don’t think I couldworship here. I’m not saying it would be terribly wrong. It’s just not me. Ineed to go where I cannot be distracted during worship service. … It wouldalways be in the back of my mind.

Fairfax is certainly diverse in terms of members’ religious backgrounds.Yet, the elders stress that it has managed to remain unified.

I hope that remains.The reality is, we are here (in the D.C. area). We’re not in Nashville. We’re not in Dallasor Oklahoma City.So, when it comes to choices and how far you have to go for those choices, Imean, you’ve got to look at the way it really is. It’s not like you can go downand start a church around the corner because the land is going to cost youmillions of dollars.


Why does Fairfax draw so many people who don’t come fromtraditional church of Christ backgrounds?

There’s a lot offolks that will check places out that are not necessarily looking for a brand.They’re just looking for a place for their kid, a place to be in a small group.People are really starving for a community of people they can connect with,more than just the people they work with or the people they see at a soccergame.

I’m told that about70 teenagers meet every Wednesday night in small groups all over the city. Howwide a geographical area do you draw from?

We have about 18 highschools and about that many junior highs represented. Also, we have a largegroup of homeschool kids and a few private school kids. We draw kids from fourcounties around us. It’s unlike any place I’ve ever been. We do have peopledrive for over an hour to come to service on Sunday.

You’re dealing with alot of affluent, on-the-go families with important jobs in government, businessand the military. How does that affect you?

I would say, for themost part, that type of atmosphere breeds people that will help out and willget involved and will plug in somewhere.

Everywhere you go,people think they’re busier than every other place. I think the difference is,there are no sacred days here. Some places, a coach won’t hold a practice onWednesday night or you won’t have a game on Sunday. Everything’s up for grabshere, even if it’s a school function or a sport or whatever. That makes youhave to be flexible. When I first came, I really tried to compete with thosethings, and you can’t compete with it. You can just try your best to offer whatyou can offer.

At the same time, themembership roll is constantly changing. For someone like you, who grew up in amore stable Bible Belt environment in East Texas,that’s got to be a different experience.

Even if someone’slived here for six or seven years, they’re still from Texas. Or they’re still from Tennessee. They’re notfrom here. They know they’re only going to be here for a little while. … Thechallenge for us, at least for me, is finding places for people to plug in. Ithink it’s really important for people to use their gifts, their talents, whilethey’re here. We want this to feel like a place that they can call home.

Filed under: Churches That Work

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