How God used hard times in life to grow a southern church

hard times in life
The Christ In Gethsemane stained glass window was installed in the church in 1959 courtesy of the Aim Well Sunday School class.

Story and photos by Joseph “Joey” Yandle
Media Director, Brookland UMC

Coronavirus? Covid-19? Those words are very frightening to most! Over the past few months, that is all we have heard – from the news media and even from our pulpits – across the U.S. and world! These hard times in life, like the pandemic, test our faith.

The question we asked ourselves was “How was God at work within it?”

That’s a very strong question, and many people would be afraid to answer! Let’s say I’m not afraid to answer for myself and also speaking for my church. Well, I say my church. I have been a member for 33 years this year, so you can say it’s sort of a fact!

The church is located in a small town in South Carolina called West Columbia, officially. Some still call it by its previous names of Brookland and New Brookland. Thus, our church is named Brookland United Methodist Church, established in 1892.

It’s a church of families from many generations – a church of greetings, handshakes, and hugs. Many people would say we are a tight knit family.

Over 125 years in ministry, and in our collective memory, we’ve never quite seen anything like the year 2020!

hard times in life
Brookland United Methodist Church

How do you stay strong in a difficult situation? You persevere!

Then comes this pandemic. During hard times in life, we may feel helpless, sick, afraid of dying, which can even draw us away from God.  It is hard times in life for everyone around us!

Why us? Why the whole world? Where is God through this? Those are questions I have heard often and asked myself, but at Brookland UMC, we were soon to find an answer I was shocked by!

Our church was not a church built on social media. We are an older, traditional congregation, and many of our members are at higher risk for the virus. So, with that, we had to enter the world of social media.

We were very afraid, dismantled, and had no idea what we were up against! I told Pastor Mark Payne that I would help control the social media. To say the least, I had no idea what I was even volunteering for!

On the second Sunday of the pandemic, we bought a tripod and started livestreaming in the social media world. It was scary, to say the least, but something amazing happened.

Our attendance quickly grew from our normal 25 people in-person attendees to upwards of a 100 plus!


But questions appeared in my head again: Why God? Why are we experiencing something so awful like this virus? What can we do when we’re going through hard times in life?

hard times in life
The pipe organ was installed in memory of Henry Buff by his wife Mrs. Mae V. Shull Buff in 1944.
hard times in life

I was learning to be creative in our ministry while we were surviving difficult times.

We kept doing the livestream broadcasts weekly, and attendance kept growing and still is today.

But I had another idea. Our church has a steeple that can be seen for miles around. You could be driving on the other side of the river and be easily guided by the view of our steeple.

Our church is rich in history. Why not use the history to bring the future?

I also took on the work of handling the archives room here at Brookland and little did I know what was in store. I was in for a surprise once again! It was as though God had told me what to do and has every step of the way!

I starting making a daily social media post from the archives and also posting daily questions.

Our church social media grew even more day after day. It started with Likes, Follows, and now people are sharing all over the world the social media posts of this small church in West Columbia, South Carolina.

That’s something amazing and what we call a blessing from God!

Well, our story of surviving hard times in life doesn’t stop there. Social media is not the only media new to us.

hard times in life
hard times in life
hard times in life
Stained glass windows in the sanctuary.

Going through hard times makes us stronger

You ask, what else could this small church do?

Well, something even more awesome. News media reporters quickly picked up on God at work here. They have been here – at almost every event and service – covering our story through this pandemic.

Most people tend to think, “Oh the media, they cover all the bad!” That’s not the case here. They are following God’s work and spreading the word with us!

You may think, “What more could happen at this old southern church?”

Before the protests on behalf of Black Lives Matter started in May, we had a visitor on Easter morning! Looking back, we can see that this man must have had a sense that we all needed to come together in prayer.

That visitor was a man of color whom we had not seen before at our services or community outreach programs.

He stopped and talked. He asked us to pray. Immediately Pastor Mark and myself said “Yes, we would love too!”

Pastor Mark started the prayer and our visitor, Robert, started to pray; so pastor Mark stopped praying and we listened!

We were in for a treat. That was the most scripture-filled, meaningful prayer we had ever heard! Robert left right after that prayer, but since then has been back several times and wanted his prayers to be heard across the world. We posted his prayers on our church social media page.

See, in God’s eyes, He loves all without prejudice, and that’s what our church stands on – We welcome all!

The mural of Noah’s Ark in our children’s sunday school classroom was painted by local artist Tammie Chambers Redlich in the midst of the pandemic.

What more could happen in this old traditional church in the South? We’re just getting started with the changes God led us to during the pandemic and beyond.

Pastor Mark and I were once again found conversing in the church. I asked, “Pastor Mark, let’s start a contemporary service.”

“When,” he asked.

“This Sunday,” I replied.

Pastor Mark laughed. “Too soon!”

“Well, then the Sunday after?” I quickly suggested.

“Okay, we’ll try” was his response.

So, in the midst of the pandemic, in a 128-year-old church, a contemporary service was born and is literally outdoing our traditional service in attendance! (Although, definitely, there’s no competition between them.)

hard times in life
The in-house archives and history museum of Brookland UMC was established by the Genevieve Kleckley Circle in 1983.

God used these hard times in life for His glory

All Glory is due to God and Him alone! So when I say I believe that God guided us through this pandemic, I truly believe that and have evidence!

God is Good and God is at work here at Brookland United Methodist Church, and we are humble and ready to tell you about the story!

If you are ready and willing, we can take you on a spiritual experience of a lifetime. Be prepared because it way better than any roller coaster ride! Strap on because the Holy Spirit is moving so fast through these hard times in life bringing awesome surprises and faith!


My name is Joey Yandle, I am a life-long member and volunteer of Brookland United Methodist Church in West Columbia, South Carolina! I am 33 years old and I believe in the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!

Hard times in life

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  1. Very proud of Joey and his work at Brookland UMC. It’s my family’s church and I hope it wk be there forever. So crazy to see it embracing social media!

  2. Brookland United Methodist is a lovely church! These images are only a small peak into the awe inspiring beauty that is this majestic place of worship. There is a true sense of wonder and a closeness to the spirit of God that is apparent the minute one steps foot into the sanctuary. The people of the church are it’s true heart and soul. These kind people have stood in the midst of a pandemic to hand out warm meals, and to offer up clothing to those in need. Brookland United Methodist is a true testimony to what a heart for God looks like!

    1. We’re hoping that your church will submit a feature story about one of your older members (present or past) in a new project coming up on Americana Steeples. We will let Joey know about the project.

    2. Thank-you so much Tammie!! It’s been truly a blessing meeting you in the midst of this Pandemic! You did such a awesome job reviving our church walls and painting them and also creating the mural of Noah’s Ark! So many awesome things have happened in a short time! God is Alive here at Brookland UMC and we are in for a spiritual experience of a lifetime!

    1. Thank-you so much Sue Heiney! God is Alive here at Brookland UMC and I just wanted to share the awesome story and hopefully give people peace during these troubled times!

  3. Joey this message is wonderful. I enjoyed reading it so much. I really hate that I’m not quite well enough to attend in person, I’m so thankful for the media message. I like you Brookland UMC has been my church all my life. So excited to see what God is doing at Brookland.

    1. Thank-you so much Mrs. Evelyn! I so miss seeing you and Eddie! Hope y’all are doing well and staying safe! God is at work here and so many things are happening in this pandemic that are only the cause of the Holy Spirit! It’s truly like we are in the midst of a revival!

  4. I love how y’all have used this as an opportunity to try new things! Reminds me of something I read a while back that I try to remember… don’t ask “What will we do now?”… ask “What does this make possible?” And we are very fortunate to have tools like social media at our disposal at this time even if there is a learning curve!

    I also love the backlit stained glass in your sanctuary… that is so neat! There is one church I’ve been to near me (Trinity Lutheran Church in Old Dime Box, Texas) that has a similar backlit window behind their altar, and First Baptist Church in Austin has some windows from their old building (demolished in the sixties) in their new building that are backlit, as does my church (St. Paul Lutheran in Thorndale).

    1. Thank-you so much Jeremy! I am so glad that My story is inspiring others! We are also thankful for Americana Steeples and their effort on getting our story heard! If you are ever in South Carolina stop by and we will take you on a tour of the church!

      1. Joey – Thank you – will do! Too bad this didn’t get published two years ago; my older children lived with their mother in Spartanburg from 2015 until the end of 2019, so I was in SC 6-7 times a year. We even took a few weekend road trips into Columbia! Hopefully we can get back out soon… even though they don’t live there any more, I wasn’t done exploring the state! 🙂

    1. Thank-you so much Naomi! God is so alive here and we are being blessed daily during this pandemic! We wanted our story to be heard because it truly is more good coming out of this for us than ever before! God is Good! All the Time!

  5. Isn’t God just amazing how he can turn everything for our God! The storms are life are hard but when we persevere through them and keep walking by faith, the strength and growth we experience is so worth it!

    1. Jenna you are so right!! We serve a awesome God! He is Good! All the Time!!

  6. I was stationed at Shaw AFB in Sumter SC in the early and mid 90’s I use to go to Columbia to go to the mall. It is great to see the positive God is doing during the pandemic!

    1. Melodie it sure is!! We often don’t take the time to slow down and Thank God for all he is doing! The world just shows all the bad, but in all reality there is more good coming out of the pandemic than anything!

  7. Wow what an incredible testimony of how God is working through your church! And what a beautiful church! Thank you for sharing this. To God be all the glory! ❤❤❤

    1. Yes Indeed! Amen!!! All Glory is due to God Alone!! I loved writing this story infact, I could even write a book on how this pandemic has helped our church out spiritually!

  8. I meant to add in my comment yesterday (and then forgot) – I am so happy to see that your church has an archives room *and* a museum! It’s fantastic to actually have a vision to not let the history of the congregation fade away!

  9. Truly enjoyed reading about the testimony of this little church. God does often time use difficult times to push us in directions we would have never expected. And this certainly has been a time for churches to innovate and use creative methods to share the gospel. God bless you!

    1. Thank you so much Luisa! This pandemic has truly blessed us in so many ways! Often the media does not put the good things, only the bad! but God is Good! All the Time!!!

  10. I just love this story! Joey did a great job explaining how this small church adapted and heeded the call of God to grow and change. So wonderful that he has been such a dedicated volunteer. I will have to check out the church on social media. Talk about lemonade!!

    1. Thank you so much Mary! I love my small church and God is Alive and at work here in many awesome ways! Check us out @bumcsc on Facebook and like and follow our page! Also if you are ever in South Carolina, Stop by!

  11. What an awesome testimony of God’s goodness! It is so encouraging to hear how he has guided your small southern church every step of the way and how he is using your obedience to reach others with the message of his love. And those are some very beautiful stain glass windows! May the Lord continue to bless and use you all!

    1. Thank you so much Ashley! We just love all the stain glass windows here! Infact we just installed a new one in the midst of the pandemic! God is Good! All the Time!!

  12. I loved reading about how your church is still going strong even during these hard times in life! I grew up in a small traditional church, I only left because I moved, but whenever I go home and visit, it’s like I never left!

    1. Yes indeed M.J.! I feel this same exact way! This church is my home and will always be! If you are ever in South Carolina, stop by and check us out! Also our Facebook page is @bumcsc.

  13. Wow a story of church growth even going against the tide (church membership decline) and the hurricane surge (covid). Wonderful story.

  14. I loved reading your story about how God used these hard times in life to draw your church family even closer to Himself and grow your church! It’s so encouraging to hear the positive stories that we don’t typically hear in the media. Also, the stained glass windows are beautiful! Thank you for sharing!

  15. We may be in the midst of dark times, but God is working powerfully! May God use this church to be a light that draws sinners to Himself.

  16. As I read this, I really felt the Spirit, and a thought came to my mind. I know many well-too-do and meaningful Christians. Unfortunately, many of them (and I, myself am included) appear more focused on perceived injustices regarding the social culture wars, pandemic and political motivations, and response. Have I taken a step back and really considered how the Lord may use me in this season and times of uncertainty?

  17. Beautiful church! Thank you for sharing the pictures of the stain glass windows and the others. Yes, God uses hard times in life to make us stronger, amen! This is a very encouraging reminder especially in our current times. I live in an area where churches keep opening and closing again. Thank you for the encouragement! God bless you.

  18. Ok, I’m a bit biased because my job is literally to help churches with social media strategies (and maybe a bit biased about UMC haha!) But I am blown away by Joey and Brookland UMC and how you decided to handle hard times as a church. Many people either avoided social media, while others went overboard, and it seems like Brookland UMC took their community and transitioned to online while still keeping all the values and things about the church in place. Bravo Joey!

  19. This is such an encouraging post showing the positive side of social media and how it brings people together. These are the things I wish people would focus on more than all the negative out there. Thank you for sharing.

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