Wendy Alexander/The Madera Tribune
Grace Community Church pastor Randy Brannon delivers a sermon.
Just under a mile from the intersection of Road 26 and Avenue 17 in Madera there’s a beige building that is easy to miss, blending in with the surrounding brown fields almost as though it was camouflaged intentionally.
At first glance, it would be hard to believe the building is a church that serves its community and the world. This is Grace Community Church.
Grace Community Church officially became a church in 1978. Before then, it was just a Bible study that met on a weekly basis. After the church was founded, the members met at a school for the next seven years. The worship center, where the church meets now, was not completed until 1985.
Other buildings that serve the church followed, starting with the education building in 1989 and moving from there. Now, the church is large enough to host a small faith-based school along with its other ministries.
The school is not actually a part of Grace Community Church. It has a separate board and budget even though the two ministries share buildings.
The church is focused on outreach, both in the Madera community and worldwide. Nearly 20 percent of the church’s budget goes to missions, with missionaries stationed in places like Jerusalem and parts of Saudi Arabia.
However, the far-away mission fields are just that: far away. Senior Pastor Randy Brannon also wants his church to stay involved in what is happening in the immediate community.
Brannon does this by staying involved with the Madera Ministerial Association, which brings together all the churches of Madera in order to touch base and make sure the needs of the community are being reached.
“I call it the Church of Madera,” Brannon said. “It’s one church with many congregations. No one church can meet all the needs of every person.”
For 34 years, Brannon has led a Wednesday morning Bible study as his own way of keeping in touch with his congregation in a more personal setting. And on Sunday mornings, his spirit is one of purpose.
“We’re not interested in gathering just for the sake of gathering,” Brannon said.
He used the church’s mission statement as his own kind of mantra: bringing people to the knowledge and worship of Christ. Then he explained that he and his church work to achieve this goal in four ways: making Christ known, knowing Christ, being a caring family, and worshiping the Lord.
The first aspect, making Christ known, is exactly that: spreading the gospel in the community of Madera and worldwide so that more people choose to give their lives to Christ.
The second aspect, knowing Christ, was focused more on those who are already Christian. Brannon talked about deepening the faith of existing Christians so that they can lead by example in their communities.
The third and fourth aspects go together. Being a caring family to Brannon meant both one’s biological family and one’s Christian family: meeting the needs of those you care about and being mindful of where they are in life and what they may need. And worshiping the Lord referenced Sunday mornings, when the church family gathers together as a family to spend time in the Bible together.
Greg Perkins, both the youth pastor and associate pastor of Grace Community Church, focuses his ministry on the second aspect of how the church achieves its mission statement.
Perkins meets with the junior high and high school aged members of the church, and his goal is teaching them and helping them grow in their faith. He talks to them no matter where they are in life: from those who were brought by a friend and have no clue about Christianity to those raised in Christian homes wanting to deepen their relationships.
He talked about wanting to set an example for the youth that he interacts with on a weekly basis, giving them the tools to stand up for themselves in their faith so that they can “lead by example” wherever they are, even when people question them on things they aren’t sure about.
“I try to teach them that, just because you don’t know the answer, doesn’t mean there isn’t one,” Perkins said. He went on to talk about finding answers to questions that one is unsure about as a good tool for the youth in life in general, not just in their faith.
Wendy Henson works alongside Perkins, interacting with the youth before they reach him. She is the children’s ministry director, overseeing the children from birth to sixth grade.
“We have, like, 90 volunteers in children’s ministry,” Henson said. “Between 90-100. Wednesdays we probably run about 100 to 125 kids. Sundays maybe 40 to 50 each service. And I could be off a little bit.”
Henson manages this ministry alongside being a mother herself, with four children ranging from 9 to 13 years of age.
Belinda Potter, the church’s secretary, said the dynamic of the church makes it an easy place to work.
“I mean it sincerely when I say that we all just get together well and we love each other here, we do,” Potter said. “And there’s respect for each other and it’s just a pleasure. It really is.”
Lauren Mueller is a student in Gary Rice’s community journalism class at California State University, Fresno.