As college students at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), Blair and I became members of Brook Hills and continued attending after we were married in 2013. However, our membership was casual and superficial. We were spectators coming in and leaving Sunday morning—mostly unnoticed, almost anonymous. When we longed for community, we made excuses for why it wasn’t the right time or why it was too difficult to do something about it.
God began convicting us of not being involved in a small group or serving the church right before He called us to move to Panama City, Florida for my job in 2016. We moved, knowing we couldn’t make the same mistake there, so far from home and almost on our own.
When we moved to Panama City, we joined a much smaller church and began to see the beauty of God’s design in authentic, deep church membership—how He intended it. God gave us community in a small group, led us to several areas to serve, and blessed us with mentors. Through all of this, our relationship with Him was deepened and strengthened. When His call came for us to move back to Birmingham last year, we knew that God was also calling us back to membership at Brook Hills. But we came knowing we couldn’t fall back into casual church spectatorship again and intending to commit deeply and meaningfully to membership.
Returning to Brook Hills has been so encouraging to us. We immediately noticed that the church had changed since we left two years prior. It didn’t seem quite so large anymore, even though there were still thousands of members. Part of this was due to the efforts of the staff to intentionally connect with the church. It first began with a membership class, which allowed us to meet a few pastors and other new potential members. They stressed the importance of small groups and the importance of serving the church as a new member. In a large church, these are key ways to get connected and to build relationships with the body. These two reasons, for us in particular, were the primary reasons we felt so disconnected in the previous years.
Next came our decision to join a small group. We reached out to an elder I worked with for a recommendation. The elder was more than willing to help and point us to a few groups. It was our intent to search around until we found one that was the right fit. What we didn’t realize was that “searching around” wasn’t going to be an option for us. The first group we visited welcomed us with open arms and wouldn’t let us just walk away unnoticed. There were no closed circles unwilling to let us in, but a warm embrace from a close-knit family that didn’t mind getting a little bigger.
We also quickly saw the impact of dedicated church members serving each Sunday in the Preschool Ministry. Faithful men and women take time out of their Sundays and Wednesdays to care for our son, Elijah. The love and attention they show is an act of kindness that we’ll never forget and will always be grateful for. Though they didn’t know him, they cared for him and soon knew him by name.
What we’ve learned through this journey so far is how God intends His church to work. A faith family only functions as a family if we’re all willing to be known and to serve one another. For so long, we got this wrong and made the church about us—our needs, our wants. Thankfully, God is gracious and showed us that we are made for community.
In our story, I hope you can see how your service and connection to the local body matters. No service, no member is insignificant. Paul tells the church in Corinth the importance of all parts of the body (1 Corinthians 12). A body depends on all of its members to function properly, just as we should serve one another to be a fruitful church. We must be a unified body, willing to serve and welcome others with open arms. God opened His arms to us, wretched sinners. Therefore, we exemplify and glorify Christ when we are willing to open our arms and ourselves to those outside of our circle.
For those who aren’t involved, let me encourage you to step out of your comfort zone and off the sidelines. Let’s honor God by coming together as a body that worships Him by caring for one another.
Brook Hills, thank you for caring. Thank you for welcoming us. Thank you for taking the time to make us feel at home.
Nathan and Blair Sherman have a son, Elijah (1). They first came to Brook Hills while in college in 2010. They returned in 2018 and immediately jumped into the membership process.