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Ashburn Church Heads Back to School

A church without land or a building may start off meeting in a school, just like Ashburn United Methodist Church did for three years until 1992.

That year, the church moved into a newly constructed building at the intersection of Crossroads Drive and Ashburn Farm Parkway, doubling in size to 30,000 square feet in 1995.

“What makes us unique is we’re in a building, and we want to get into a school,” said Pastor David Norman.

In January, Ashburn United Methodist Church moved one of its services to Ashburn’s Stone Bridge High School. The 11 a.m. Sunday service there features contemporary worship, complete with worship bands and a sound and video system in the school’s 1,200-seat auditorium. The church’s regular sanctuary seats 500.

“It’s a really different attempt to reach out to people who may not want to come to a church building,” said Kim Forsberg, director of formation ministries.

A church building can be intimidating, since potential churchgoers may believe they have to dress or act a certain way or have had a bad experience in a previous church, Norman said. “When you’re in a neutral space, you don’t have the same baggage around it,” he said. “People can come as they are.”

“It’s an awesome experience over there,” said Kim Gresko, graphic designer who does the worship visuals. “We have much more freedom to be creative.”

The service is the church’s largest, attracting about 340-350 people a week. “Every week we see new people there. It’s starting to grab on,” Norman said.

The church’s overall attendance is about 700-800 people a week for the contemporary service, the regular 5:30 p.m. Saturday service and the 9 a.m. Sunday service, a blended service with hymns and praise choruses.

“We’re trying to have something to offer everyone,” Norman said. “The message is the same, but the music is different, and the presentation of the things that happen in worship is different.”

NORMAN BEGAN Ashburn United Methodist Church in 1989 with 10-15 members, drawing together the congregation from the former Ryan United Methodist Church, also in Ashburn. With help, he called every household in Ashburn to find out what residents wanted from a church and used some of their recommendations. Since then, the church has grown to 1,000 members, increasing in size through word of mouth and less so through advertising and direct mailings, Norman said.

“I always wanted to start a new church, and I had the opportunity to do that,” said Norman about being appointed to the position. The Urbana, Ill. native was working as a travel agent for two years when he felt God calling him into full-time ministry. He was 20 at the time, so he worked another three years to pay for his schooling at Eastern Mennonite in Harrisonburg. He became a student pastor from 1981-86 and graduated from Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C. in 1985. He served at another church for three years before coming to Ashburn, where he now lives.

Norman said he received the calling to apply faith to everyday life and provides practical life lessons in the sermons he gives. “Too long, people separated church from their life outside of church. Jesus showed they are not to be separated,” he said.

Bill Miller, a church member for seven years, said Norman’s sermons are relevant. “They give you something to think about and something to take home with you.”

NORMAN AIMS to help members discover what he calls “their God potential.” Members achieve that potential by discovering what gifts and passions they can use to help others. “To be in relation with God is to be in relation with people,” he said.

The church has several small groups to help develop relationships, including short-term learning groups on subjects such as marriage and family, parenting, and divorce, and long-term discipleship groups that pick their own themes to study. The small groups meet at the church or at home to study the Bible together and to learn how to practically apply it to everyday life.

“We’re focusing on transitioning from a church with small groups to a small group church,” Norman said. “We’re trying to make sure everybody is connected through a small circle of care.”

“It becomes like family,” said Cathy Norman, David Norman’s wife of 24 years and lead staff member for adult spiritual formation and outreach. At the same time, “We feel God calls us to be in the community,” her husband said.

The church operates several ministries in Loudoun County, Washington, D.C. and Uganda, Africa, where members are helping to build an orphanage clinic and a church.

“It’s been all good to get out there and open the doors for more people,” Gresko said.

“The church is reaching out. It’s growing. It’s vibrant,” Miller said. “People get excited when they come here.