BERLIN — On the crest of celebrating its 10-year anniversary this October, SonRise Church in Berlin hopes to expand its congregation as well as its role in the community over the course of its next 10 years.
Lead Pastor Daryl McCready, who helped found the then 16-member congregation in 2002, has watched membership boom over the last decade to the current approximately 500 members. During that period, McCready revealed that SonRise made the collective decision to become as positively connected to the area as it could.
“If we can help, we try to help,” he said.
During their decade in existence, SonRise has reached out to area schools, individuals, and even other places of worship. In fact, according to Executive Pastor Jerry Wade, SonRise is unique in its willingness to work with all branches of Christianity to spread an overall message.
“The willingness to cross denominational lines is pretty unusual,” said Wade.
McCready agreed and went on to say that even people who are not particularly religious are welcome to attend events or services and would never be pressured.
“It’s very casual,” he said.
In an era where membership to traditional churches has been shrinking for decades, McCready said that the secret to SonRise’s growth has been focusing on community improvement instead of aggressive recruitment. While it may not fit everyone’s idea of what a church should look like, Wade explained that updating techniques and including technology while preserving the Biblical message is the reason why SonRise is flourishing while others are struggling.
“It’s the way you have to be today to reach people,” he said. “By and large [mainline churches] are dying.”
McCready told a story about a church leadership conference that he attended a few years after SonRise was founded. During that conference, all of the leaders were asked if their church closed its doors the next day, would anyone outside of their congregations even notice.
It was a chilling question that McCready said altered how SonRise works today.
“That statement started keeping me up at night,” he said.
For the last several years, SonRise has worked to forge partnerships with schools and the town of Berlin.
“We just asked them, ‘How can we help you?’” he said.
According to McCready, there was a lot they could do to help. In schools especially, SonRise has started numerous programs and hosted charity events. This includes a “Back Pack” program for students at Berlin Intermediate School and Buckingham Elementary School, which aims to provide food for underprivileged or neglected students.
The church’s partnership with Stephen Decatur High School (SDHS) is especially strong, said McCready. Because of the rapid growth of its membership, SonRise quickly outgrew its original building. Currently, SonRise hold its largest services at SDHS, where on Sundays they offer a more modern approach to worship, with a live band, food and a more relaxed atmosphere.
“The school has been really good to us and we try to return that,” McCready said.
One of the things he was most proud of is the church’s mentor program. Members of the SonRise congregation can volunteer to meet with a student, attend their events or awards ceremonies, tutor and generally provide guidance to often confused young people.
“Some of these kids don’t have anyone in their corner … the whole point of being a mentor is investing your life in someone else’s,” said McCready.
In the future, McCready hopes SonRise will be able to offer even more to the youth in Worcester County with the potential opening of a large community center in Berlin.
“We have a huge vision … our vision is to develop a community center that is second to none,” he said.
The center, which could be located across Seahawk Road from SDHS would feature things like a rock wall, bowling alley, an indoor surfing pool and laser tag as well as room for SonRise’s growing congregation to worship.
While no plans have been set in stone and the project would carry a significant price tag, McCready was confident in his faith that the church will grow as God sees fit.
If the community center should eventually come to fruition, McCready promised that the same level of respect for other’s beliefs would hold at the center that SonRise currently applies to services and events.
“The ultimate motive is to share Christ with everyone,” he said, but stressing that while it is an “ultimate motive” it’s not an “ulterior motive” and his church would never attempt to force their views on anyone.
A prime example of that is the work SonRise does with “planting” other churches. Though Baptist in practice, SonRise has helped launch 11 new churches of varying denominations over the last 10 years. While the majority of these have been in Maryland, McCready explained that the program does reach some exotic locations, including the memorable founding of a new church in the Galapagos Islands.
After hearing about efforts by locals to found a church in a small town in the islands, SonRise endeavored to jumpstart the project, raising more than $9,000 in a single day. Twenty members of the congregation also traveled down to the Galapagos to help construct the church, a process that they managed to accomplish in six days.
Similar efforts will be the focus in the next 10 years, along with expanding the congregation and constructing a facility capable of housing the already impressive group. For the time being, McCready said he is happy with what SonRise has accomplished in its first decade.
“We feel that what we do is more important than where we do it,” he said.