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Approach to Sunday nights, Wednesdays changes as some focus on service projects

Steve Sandifer, pastoral care minister at the Southwest Central church in Houston, refers to Sundays as class time.
Wednesdays, he says, are lab.
“It’s a time to put into practice what some of us have been learning for 20, 30, even 40 years,” Sandifer said of Café Grace, which is “open for your spiritual refreshment from 6:30 to 9 p.m. each Wednesday.
Immigrants come to the church not only to sip fresh cups of coffee, tea and lemonade, but also to study English as a second language — part of the congregation’s effort to reach out to its community.
“Café Grace started as an experiment, but now is our answer to a mid-week slump,” Sandifer said.
Looking to stem attendance declines blamed on work-weary commuters, tired young families and those otherwise crunched for time, many congregations are looking for ways to make Sunday and Wednesday nights more relevant. Some say the solution is replacing services with service.
Anna Dreyfus grew up raking leaves and singing at nursing homes with her Birmingham, Ala., congregation. But when she outgrew the youth group and became a parent, she said, she missed serving others.
So the 29-year-old mother of two, now a member of the University church, Tuscaloosa, Ala., was thrilled when the congregation’s Acts 2 Groups debuted recently. The small-group program encourages Bible study three Sunday nights of the month, with a servant or hospitality ministry on the fourth Sunday.
In October, Dreyfus and her 4-year-old daughter went door-to-door handing out candy and information about the University church, in what she called a “reverse trick-or-treat” night. In November, they prepared food for families during the Thanksgiving holiday.
Dreyfus spent four hours one Saturday in December wrapping gifts with other small-group participants at a shopping mall. She spent as much time waving off tips as she did tying ribbons, she said.
“Everyone wanted to pay us or make a donation, and we had to keep telling them, ‘No, we don’t want that. We’re just showing you the love of Christ by doing something for you,'” Dreyfus said. “and then we’d give them a card about our church, with a map and service times. It made a big impact on them.”
Shon Smith, preaching minister, said he’s found the concept “effective not only in working in the community, but also helping our people understand how easy starting a conversation is when you’re serving.
“It’s creating momentum in our congregations as we become more community-minded,” Smith said.
Some might confuse the name of the Hendersonville, Tenn., church’s quarterly Sunday evening program with a television drama. It’s called “CSI Hendersonville,” which stands for “Christian Service and Involvement.”
Rather than dusting for fingerprints, Hendersonville members spend two-plus hours working on outreach projects, worshiping and eating a fellowship meal. The projects range from making teddy bears for hospitalized kids to preparing care packages for young adults away at college.
“People leave feeling they have served, worshiped and even got fed,” said Mark Bryson, involvement/ outreach minister.
Sandifer said feeding Southwest Central’s neighbors literally and spiritually was the focus when Café Grace began a few summers ago.
The 160-member, multicultural church began looking at its building’s spacious, casually furnished foyer and wondered if it might transform easily into a coffee bar one night a week. Couches and easy chairs were grouped into more intimate seating areas, complete with small round tables. Coffee and iced tea were brewed and lemonade squeezed. Homemade cookies were set out.
With the atmosphere set, church leaders decided to work on the conversation. FriendSpeak — the domestic approach the Let’s Start Talking — was launched to attract neighbors interested in learning to speak and read English.
“In some cases, we read Luke and Acts, and we’ve seen them develop their speaking ability and knowledge of the Lord right before our eyes,” Sandifer said.
Kurt Ryder and Drew Battistelli with the Storefront church, Pineville, La., say their church averages 65 in the pews each Sunday morning.
On Wednesday nights, their group sometimes triples as they fan out across the community.
Ryder said the fact that Storefront, in souther Louisiana, gives 10 percent of its annual budget back to the four or five nonprofit groups it serves is a testament to its mission.
“In our circles, we tend to close ourselves in,” Ryder said. “We build these big, fine building and say, ‘If we build it, they will come.’ But we wear our Christianity on our shirt sleeves, and the outside world never sees anything we do.”

Filed under: National Staff Reports

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