While in seminary, Pastor Ralph heard that the most effective way to reach adults in America for Christ is through starting new churches. God used this intriguing fact, and Ralph’s spiritual gift of evangelism to direct him to the next stage of his life and ministry. The desire to begin a new church began to grow in his mind.
He talked with the Dothan district superintendent (overseer of the Methodist churches in a certain area), Walter Ellisor, about the idea of a new church. Dr. Ellisor was very interested and asked Ralph to write out his ideas in a letter to the Alabama/West Florida bishop.
Unknown to Ralph, Dr. Ellisor had a desire to see a new church start in Dothan. With his support and voice in the denomination, the bishop did appoint Ralph to the Dothan district to start a new church in June of 1996.
Ralph wanted to start the church in Dothan because he believed Dothan was large enough to support this different style of church. Also he was familiar with the town and already had contacts here because he had lived in Dothan during his high school years (his father pastored Layfette Street United Methodist Church, 1974 – 1980).
At first, Ralph spent most of his time meeting with anyone who was interested in hearing about the vision, explaining over and over again the idea and what the church service could “look” like. On Sunday mornings, the Siglers visited Methodist churches in the area to share about the plan for the new church. The other churches were helpful and supportive. Ralph began searching for possible meeting places. He took a survey of people in Dothan asking why they don’t go to church. The textbook answers were: “church people aren’t friendly”, “church is boring”, “they only want my money”, “I don’t fit in”, “it doesn’t relate to my life”, “I don’t like the music”, I don’t want to dress up”.
Rather quickly God brought the right people to form the core group. By the end of June, three families met with the Siglers in their living room to talk about how to begin. Meeting together on Sunday nights during that first summer, the group began to grow as more were drawn to the vision of this church, or just to help. After praying together the group felt led to call the new church “Harvest Church”.
That September the first Sunday morning service was held in the Girard Middle School cafeteria. The local paper printed some articles on the start of the church, some of the Methodist churches ran announcements in their newsletters, and this helped to inform more people about Harvest. From September through October the number grew, so that on the last Sunday before the official opening there were 50 people in attendance.
During this time, the core group worked nights conducting a phone survey – calling families all over Dothan to identify people without a church home who were interested in getting information about the new church. They also invited them to attend the opening service. The phone survey was a lot of work, but many of the first members say they came because of that initial phone call.
On November 3, 1996, the formal opening service was held. There were 200 people in attendance on that exciting day! It was advertised as “The birth of Harvest Church -- The Start of Something Good!”
It truly was the start of something good. Everything God plans and brings about is good. We enjoy looking back to see how many things God prepared for Harvest to begin as it did, when it did. We look forward to what He has in store for us as we continue to seek Him. We love meeting together now knowing His presence is with us. We know He has a great future for Harvest Church.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. In those days when you pray, I will listen. If you look for me in earnest, you will find me when you seek me. I will be found by you,” says the Lord. (Jeremiah 29:11 –14)
As God blesses us at Harvest, existing churches are encouraged to try new things, and new churches being planted are inspired.