Harvest Church reaches out to those who are not church-goers

Sun News correspondentMarch 27, 2013 

  • Harvest Church

    Address: 3322 U.S. 41 N., Byron
    Phone: 923-8822
    Leadership: Jim Cowart, lead pastor
    Worship: 6 p.m. Saturday; 9 a.m., 10:30 a.m. and noon Sunday
    Website: harvestchurch4u.org

BYRON -- Harvest Church makes a big deal of Easter, and they’re inviting folks to join them doing it.

To celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the church is adding three services to its normal four-service weekend schedule. The added services are Friday at 6 p.m. and Saturday at 3 p.m. and 4:30 p.m.

Each of the church’s Friday and Saturday services will feature an Easter egg hunt afterward with eggs hidden on a portion of its 43 acres off U.S. 41.

A lot of eggs.

“We’re going to be putting out 40,000 eggs this Easter,” said Jim Cowart, lead pastor who founded the Methodist congregation along with his wife, Jennifer, in 2000. “Easter is the high point of our year as Christians, and it’s our goal to connect with people who may be un-churched and looking for a place to celebrate. We go all out at Easter with fantastic music from our rock-style worship band, and we’ll have videos of people telling what Jesus did in their lives this year.”

Jim Cowart said Harvest’s services are attended by a diverse group of black, white, Hispanic, old and young worshipers.

Jennifer Cowart said they are expecting about 5,000 to take part in the weekend. She said the church usually has 2,000 or more take part in regular weekend worship.

Jim Cowart said from the beginning Harvest Church simply wanted to connect the average person who’s not going to church to the God who made them and loves them. The church has grown tremendously and was listed in 2009 and 2010 in Outreach Magazine’s list of top 100 fastest growing churches in America.

But Jim Cowart said that’s not the point.

“We’re really not about the numbers,” he said. “We’re about people. We’re very intentional about reaching out to folks who don’t go to church. We’re not in competition with this other church or that other church; we’re on the same team. We’re trying to reach people, nice people who for some reason have given up on church and don’t know Jesus. We’re very intentional about reaching them with God’s love in a very friendly, helpful way. We never get comfortable knowing there are still lost people out there.”

Though the Cowarts say Harvest is geared toward making people feel comfortable and enjoy their experience through music and a friendly atmosphere, they don’t cut corners on providing solid truth from the Bible.

“We talk a lot about application around here, application of what the Bible teaches,” Jim Cowart said. “We teach the Bible, but instead of saying we’re teaching Deuteronomy this week, we say we’re teaching about parenting then we go to Deuteronomy to do it. We take them to scripture, but we start with people’s needs and don’t usually use the fancy religious words. It seems to me that’s what Jesus did. He met people where they were in their need and brought them along as followers. We try to be very transparent. We stress living your faith when you leave on Sunday.”

Jim Cowart said the church doesn’t have a lot of programs other than weekend teaching and worship services and its smaller community groups that involve 1,000 to 1,500 people each semester. Though the church is involved with projects internationally, like supporting an orphanage, partnering with other churches and digging water wells, he said personal ministry and mission locally takes place with the community groups. He said there people are free to do what God is leading them to do to serve and bless others.

“Last year we were excited to be able to give away almost 20 percent of our budget to missions,” he said. “The community groups are kind of like our Sunday school. They don’t have to wait on a committee or board to say it’s OK to minister to others; they can just go with it. We’re amazed to hear all the things people do to serve others -- things we would never have thought of doing as the larger group.”

Jim and Jennifer Cowart said they met while attending college in LaGrange. From there they both attended Asbury Theological Seminary in Kentucky and wound up serving churches in Dublin. Then, they were asked by Methodist leaders to consider starting a church for the un-churched in Houston County. They said they took the challenge and moved here with their two children, Alyssa and Josh.

Jennifer Cowart said they first met at Houston County High School, then the old Ramada Inn, then at the Galleria Mall Stadium Cinemas. Jim Cowart said they loved meeting at the theater and the relationship they had with theater management, but growth caused them to seek their own property.

The Cowarts have written a book about Harvest Church and its growth called “Stop This, Start That.”

Being such a large church, the Cowarts admit they have their critics but maintain their mission is more important than getting caught up in squabbles.

“We have a saying that we want to make it hard for anyone to go to hell from Houston County,” Jim Cowart said. “We want to join with others reaching people for Christ and helping them have a better life here on earth and a much better life in eternity. It’s not a matter of how big we are. We want to be big because if we stop growing it may be a sign we’re not reaching out and caring for others.”

Contact Michael W. Pannell at mwpannell@gmail.com.

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