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Charleston area congregations will combine praise and worship with food and fun through "praise in the parks" and other outdoors events this spring. (Wade Spees/postandcourier.com)

Ministry didn't stop over the winter.

But while churches brought in parishioners over the past few months, warmer weather presents an opportunity for congregations to take their mission beyond the walls and out into communities with unconventional, outdoor worship services and community-based events.

Aimed at engaging youth, serving those in need and attracting individuals who would otherwise be too intimidated to enter a church building, Charleston-area congregations will combine preaching and prayers with food and fun through "praise in the parks" and other outdoors events this spring.

Holmes Avenue Baptist Church will host its fifth annual Praise in the Park on April 14 at Park Circle in North Charleston. After a worship service, featuring contemporary music led by a band, guests will enjoy hamburger, hot dogs, sweet tea and other picnic foods.

Attendance has grown over the years to about 80 guests. People walking around the park often drop in the worship event and stay the entire service.

That's what the program is designed to do, says senior pastor Troy Query. Instead of telling people to come to Jesus Christ, the church is taking Christ to them, he said.

“Church is not to be held inside the walls all the time," he said. "Church takes place outside with the people, people who need to come closer in their relationship with God. A lot of people are reluctant to go inside the church. This is our opportunity to go to them."

The effort is also part of a strategy to re-engage youth. Across the country, mainline denominations have struggled to retain youth membership as many opt for nondenominational experiences. When Query arrived to Holmes Avenue five years ago, there weren't any youth in the 75-member congregation. The church hired two youth ministers to focus on attracting children and teenagers through community events and other ministries.

The church also sponsors a recreational tee-ball team, hosts a back-to-school giveaway and movie nights throughout the spring and summer, as well. 

"We focused on that heavily in the past couple of years," he said. "The community events are a better way to reach those young people."

Doing ministry outdoors is also a way to serve the less fortunate.

On March 31, Summerville-based Baum Temple AME Zion Church will host its first ever Praise in the Park at Doty Park.

After praise and worship, volunteers from the church and Summerville's Community Resource Center will distribute 1,500 pounds of groceries to those in need. Other groups will provide homeless women with feminine products.

Louis Smith, director of the resource center, said the event cannot only help homeless people but also residents who work and still don't have enough money to make ends meet. A festive environment outdoors where those in need don't have to dress up provides a prime opportunity for ministry and service.

"This is what we need to do to reach the people," Smith said.

The Rev. Henry Gregory, still fairly new at Baum Temple, admits that deviating from the traditional worship experience can be tough. Sunday morning worship at the 115-year-old church features casual dress and classic hymns with a dab of contemporary gospel.

The outdoor worship service invites guests to come in jeans and T-shirts. Musicians on keyboards and drum sets will lead musical selections. Youth will offer liturgical dances.

Gregory is hoping for a diverse crowd and has encouraged his parishioners to sit with guests.

"It's nothing like regular church," Gregory said. "We’re anxious and nervous at the same time.”

Follow Rickey Dennis on Twitter @RCDJunior.

Rickey Dennis covers North Charleston and faith & values for the Post and Courier.

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