Ooltewah: The Challenges of the Church in Suburbia
“Ooltewah is a place that represents the American suburban story.” Says Benjie Slaton, Lead Pastor at Grace+Peace Church. “Lots of new people are moving to the area because of good elementary schools for their children, safe neighborhoods, proximity to work, and new homes. I tend to meet people who are kid activity dominated, relationally isolated, and financially stretched. The good news of Jesus we are preaching brings delight, belonging, and a sacrificial life to those who receive it.”
Benjie and his wife Natalie couldn’t be more excited about planting a church in Ooltewah. Slaton’s church plant, Grace+Peace Church, launched a weekly worship service in September of last year. They meet at the Ooltewah Adventist Church and are averaging about 75 people on Sundays and new people are attending frequently. They have two overflowing Missional Community Groups that will multiply soon. And they have significant numbers of people serving at Silverdale Detention Center and Hunter Middle School. “It’s a really exciting time to be on the front end of God’s work in this community,” says Slaton.
Despite its current growth, it wasn’t easy to get Grace+Peace planted in Ooltewah. Slaton points out that Grace+Peace has experienced two common obstacles that most suburban plants face. First, there are not many places to hold service because there aren’t older, underutilized buildings in an area like Ooltewah, due to its high growth and demand. “We are grateful for the provision of the Adventist Church to meet that need,” says Slaton. Second, the area doesn’t have many established institutions that root social relationships in the community. Because of this, Slaton says “Grace+Peace is creating an entirely new social dynamic that didn’t exist before we arrived.”
Slaton says he has felt God’s work through the church planting process, both in getting past obstacles and inspiring real change throughout Grace+Peace’s congregation. “It has been so gratifying to watch God work. I’ve watched people who long ago left the church see G+P as the means of being brought back to Jesus. I’ve watched people who have lost a sense of their place in God’s mission get called back into service. And I’ve even had a person who has been a long-time churchgoer realize that they had never really been converted and humbled themselves to come to Jesus for the first time.”
Grace+Peace hopes to continue to grow and asks for your prayers as it expands its mission. If you live in Ooltewah or know anyone in the area, the best help you can give to Grace+Peace is connecting your friends and inviting them to attend a Grace+Peace service with you. “It is a great encouragement for our folks to have local friends show interest by visiting the church,” says Slaton. “And, it’s the best way for someone to get a feel for what Grace+Peace is all about and make a lasting connection.”
Visit Grace+Peace’s website to learn more about them.