Churches Nationwide Respond to Weakening Economy by Closing Their Doors on Sunday to Serve Their Communities
"Faith In Action" - A groundbreaking Ministry finds momentum in communities but more needs to be done, many families and children are still in need, says World Vision.
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich., Oct. 6 /Christian Newswire/ -- As the worsening economy continues to make life difficult for families across the country, churches are putting their faith into action this Sunday, October 12th by doing something radical. This year, more than 300 churches nationwide will close their doors to help serve their neighbors in need. Some 36,000 Americans are now involved in this growing movement.
Since September 2007, Faith In Action has been the most radical ministry in today's church by advocating that churches should cancel Sunday services, close their doors and "Be the Church" by leading local community service projects. The Faith in Action program bridges the gap between families who could use a helping hand this year - and churches who have the extra hands to offer help.
"For far too long, the American church has remained stuck inside the walls of the sanctuary each week. We talk about serving others like Christ served the church, but too many on the outside say that not enough churches embody that message. We can no longer look away in indifference. Faith in Action helps churches take this message to their communities," says Steve Haas, Vice President at World Vision.
Faith In Action culminates in a community outreach Sunday where regular services are canceled, and congregations do service projects in, and with, their local community. The program also helps Christians invite members of their community to join in serving together. Three leading Christian organizations, World Vision, Outreach and Zondervan, are behind Faith in Action.
FAITH IN ACTION OVERFLOWS
It was a sunny October Sunday morning in the small New Hampshire town of Littleton, just before all of winter’s ice, snow and sub-zero weather set in. The farmer’s market was doing a brisk business; everyone was out enjoying the weather, especially families with young children.
“As I passed that outdoor market, I was struck with how many young families were not being reached while we’re all in church,” remarked Mac Starring, senior pastor of Faith Bible Church in Littleton. “Had this not been our Faith in Action Day, the day we closed our church doors to serve our community, I wouldn’t have seen all those people.”
As he walked through the marketplace in a town of 6,000, surprised neighbors greeted him with, “What are you doing here?” “We’ve closed the church,” he answered. “Oh, no – you’ve closed the church!?” His answer was met with shock. “Just for today, so that we can focus on serving people around town,” he explained.
Pastor Mac summed up that experience: “People were dismayed to think that the church had closed. Yet the church – and God – obviously weren’t that important to them. After all, look where they were on Sunday. It underscored for me once again the importance of outreach. Ongoing outreach – not just a one-time event.
“It’s easy to become so insular and isolated as a church and as Christians – particularly here with our northern New Hampshire winters – that we need to be shaken from our inertia and reminded what God has called us to be and do.
“Cold-turkey evangelism just doesn’t work most of the time,” he reflected. “We need to build relationships. People need to see on an ongoing basis that we care.”
Faith Bible Church’s Faith in Action Day was organized through its small groups, begun the previous year through “40 Days of Community.” Brainstorming sessions of ideas took place during Sunday School time, along with Faith in Action small group studies, to help each group find its own project.
One small group held services at a nearby retirement home on the Sunday morning, singing favorite hymns of the residents. Another group took on the garage and storage building of a family who had been flooded out three years ago. Due to family illness, they hadn’t cleaned up the building after the flood, and contents sat all that time, molding and ruined. “There were even dead and decomposing animals inside,” he said. This hardy group found out about the family’s predicament through a local government agency that helps the elderly and disabled, and set out to clean out. A few things were salvaged, but most everything had to be trashed. “This was such a down and dirty job,” said Pastor Mac. “This was worse than washing feet. They were such an example of Christ-likeness!”
This opened their eyes to the need to partner with government agencies and local charities to meet needs in the community, he said. “They are a great source of information and help to the needy. We need to become the same, rather than retreating into our four walls – a kind of fortress mentality. The problem is, when we stay within our four walls, who’s storming whose gates?”
Since their Faith in Action Day, Faith Bible Church has begun a partnership with other churches in the community to begin a community youth ministry. Together the Church – made up of all the local churches – has held several small outreach events. Faith Church is also planning its next community service day for summer time, building on their October service day in addition to the other outreach efforts already undertaken.
“Faith in Action was like a stream that overflowed its banks, feeding other streams,” Pastor Mac explained. “We had already begun a few community service efforts, but this one day helped us really focus as a church on the needs in our community, with a big event, and fueled or fed our other ongoing efforts. We’ll do this again
CAN WE DO THIS EVERY WEEK?
“Our church’s response to Faith In Action was so strong; people were more than a little serious when they asked if we could do this on a weekly basis!” grinned Christine Smith, co-organizer of FIA for The River Church in Long Beach, California. “Our church has always been gracious in giving, but the absolute excitement of really getting in there to work – and getting dirty – was huge for our congregation,” she said.
The church sent out invitations to homes in their area prior to their community service day, explaining the projects they’d be working on and inviting their neighbors to help. A few extra volunteers showed up that day.
Their largest project was a clean up at Hamilton Middle School, a struggling, lower-income school. There, the group power-washed windows, painted and landscaped. Artwork was painted to decorate the teachers’ lounge, the marquee in front was repaired, and – the least pleasant job – the locker rooms were cleaned out. Volunteers also collected little prizes for teachers to hand out to students for jobs well done. “The principal, the teachers – even the groundskeeper – were very grateful for the work that was done.”
In preparation for their Faith In Action Day, several church members became certified in emergency preparedness through the local fire department. They coordinated a team of volunteers who went door-to-door, passing out information on steps to take to prepare for a disaster and inviting them to participate in an emergency training meeting hosted by the Red Cross at The River Church. The church building itself was also certified as a disaster shelter.
Still another group of volunteers prepared and served Sunday lunch at the Long Beach Rescue Mission. “Our youth group works at the mission on a monthly basis, helping to stock, organize, prepare, and sometimes serve food. This group of volunteers cooked the whole meal, and then served it,” Christine said.
“Faith In Action showed us how to truly love our neighbors and meet their needs, not just invite them to church,” she summed up. “It really opened our eyes to immediate needs that we can fill as God’s hands and feet in our community.”
For additional information on this program, log on to http://www.putyourfaithinaction.org/