By GLENN HANNIGAN
Editor, North Georgia Advocate
It’s time for a little word association exercise.
OK, here we go. Read the following word—then pause for a second:
What is the first thing that pops into your head? No cheating.
If you are most of us, your initial thought either involves the physical building where you go each Sunday, or something involving the worship service itself.
But what if “church” also meant replacing leaky roofs for those in need? Providing free auto repair? Throwing block parties in neighboring communities? Can such a familiar word take on new meaning?
Early in May, the United Methodist Church launched “Rethink Church” a $20-million, four-year campaign exploring the question: What if church were a verb? The global initiative is aimed at 19-to-34-year-olds, who research shows are increasingly moving away from mainline denominations.
As explained on UMCom.org: “The (Rethink Church) campaign goal is sweeping and ambitious – to invite the church and those unchurched who seek spiritual fulfillment, to become more outwardly focused and engaged in the world. The campaign seeks to offer the church, not as a place to come to and stay within, but as a base of operation for expressing faith by moving out into communities and around the globe to become part of God’s plan for world transformation.”
Translation: What would happen if we knocked the walls down and carried church into the community? What if we all rolled up our sleeves?
You don’t have to search long or hard in the North Georgia Conference to find examples of people turning church into a verb—and not only at Christmas or Thanksgiving.
An increasing number of Methodist churches are expressing a renewed enthusiasm for hands-on ministry, delivering meals to the elderly or sponsoring days of community service, where members go out and fix broken windows, replace roofs, paint or do general maintenance for those in need.
Some churches have developed ongoing specialty missions. McEachern Memorial UMC, in Powder Springs, has a car care ministry, where volunteers repair vehicles for the elderly and low income residents. The church has also given away dozens of cars that were fixed up after being donated.
Liberty Hill UMC in Canton (disclosure alert: it’s my home church), has a mobile ministry truck that it regularly takes to the local family violence center to show movies – complete with popcorn and cold drinks -- for children and their moms.
City on a Hill in Holly Springs came up with an unusual Mother’s Day outreach last month. The church arranged with a local gas station to allow volunteers to provide full-service chores for single moms, checking oil, cleaning windshields and paying for gas. By the end of the day the church had given away $4,000 of fuel.
Fellowship UMC, in Paulding County, has been reaching out in various ways, including hosting neighborhood block parties.
“We’ll get a call from folks in a subdivision inviting us in,” said Pastor Kenny Ott. “We’ll bring in a sound system and play music, grill some hot dogs, and set up a moonwalk and other family-friendly activities.
“We just want to get out and be active in the community. We want to be involved with civic groups and other churches.”
Of course, before a church starts “rethinking” too much, it might want to first check the supply cabinet for rubber gloves.
Navo Church, in the Oakhurst community of Decatur, might take the prize for creative service. Navo – which in Hebrew means “we will go” – sets aside the second Sunday of every month for service projects.
In May, Pastor Bryan Fowler led his group of volunteers to various shops in the business district, where they walked in and politely asked if they could clean the bathrooms.
“We’d get a little half-smile, then they’d say, ‘sure, knock yourself out!’” Fowler recalls. “We tried to be subtle about it. We didn’t want to be a distraction or draw attention to ourselves. We simply want to do good things in the community.”
The Navo group cleaned bathrooms in a half-dozen businesses, including a coffee shop, sports shoe store, and even a pub.
“The service we do is more a blessing for us than for the people we do it for,” Fowler says. “We don’t do any recruiting or put any pressure on people to participate. We experience God’s love by doing service for others.”
Has your church come up with creative ideas for getting out into the community and serving others?
We’d like to hear your story. E-mail us at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article ran in the June 5 edition of the North Georgia Advocate. Click here to subscribe or renew your subscription.