Some churches replace services with service
From a productivity standpoint, Drew Battistelli wasn’t sure. As worship leader of the Storefront Church, Pineville, La., he said he grew restless waiting inside the building for those who might come in and share the congregation’s love and joy.
So members decided to take “church” out the doors and into the community, Battistelli said. “We are stretching our church,” he said. Members “weren’t reaching anyone inside the building, so they said, ‘Let’s go out.'”
Across the nation, some congregations are replacing traditional Sunday night or Wednesday night services with projects designed to serve their communities, the Chronicle found.
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 putinto practice what some of us have been learning for 20, 30, even 50 years,”Sandifer said of CafÃ© Grace, which is “open for your spiritual refreshment”from 6:30 to 9 p.m. each Wednesday.
Immigrants come tothe church not only to sip fresh cups of coffee, tea and lemonade, but also tostudy English as a second language — part of the congregation’s effort to reachout to its community.
“CafÃ© Grace startedas an experiment, but now is our answer to a mid-week slump,” Sandifer said.
Looking to stemattendance declines blamed on work-weary commuters, tired young families andthose otherwise crunched for time, many congregations are looking for ways tomake Sunday and Wednesday nights more relevant.
Some say the solutionis replacing services with service.
Anna Dreyfus grew upraking leaves and singing at nursing homes with her Birmingham, Ala.,congregation. But when she outgrew the youth group and became a parent, shesaid, she missed serving others.
So the 29-year-oldmother of two, now a member of the University church, Tuscaloosa, Ala.,was thrilled when the congregation’s Acts 2 Groups debuted recently. Thesmall-group program encourages Bible study three Sunday nights of the month,with a servant or hospitality ministry on the fourth Sunday.
In October, Dreyfusand her 4-year-old daughter went door-to-door handing out candy and informationabout the University church, in what she called a “reverse trick-or-treat”night. In November, they prepared food for families during the Thanksgivingholiday.
Dreyfus spent fourhours one Saturday in December wrapping gifts with other small-groupparticipants at a shopping mall. She spent as much time waving off tips as shedid tying ribbons, she said.
“Everyone wanted topay us or make a donation, and we had to keep telling them, ‘No, we don’t wantthat. 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 andservice times. It made a big impact on them.”
Shon Smith, preachingminister, said he’s found the concept “effective not only in working in thecommunity, but also helping our people understand how easy starting aconversation is when you’re serving.
“It’s creatingmomentum in our congregation as we become more community-minded,” Smith said.
Some might confusethe name of the Hendersonville, Tenn., church’s quarterly Sundayevening program with a television drama. It’s called “CSI Hendersonville,”which stands for “Christian Service and Involvement.”
Rather than dustingfor fingerprints, Hendersonvillemembers spend two-plus hours working on outreach projects, worshiping andeating a fellowship meal. The projects range from making teddy bears forhospitalized kids to preparing care packages for young adults away at college.
“People leave feelingthey have served, worshiped and even got fed,” said Mark Bryson,involvement/outreach minister.
Sandifer said feedingSouthwest Central’s neighbors literally and spiritually was the focus when CafÃ©Grace began a few summers ago.
The 160-member,multicultural church began looking at its building’s spacious, casuallyfurnished foyer and wondered if it might transform easily into a coffee bar onenight a week. Couches and easy chairs were grouped into more intimate seatingareas, complete with small round tables. Coffee and iced tea were brewed andlemonade squeezed. Homemade cookies were set out.
With the atmosphereset, church leaders decided to work on the conversation. FriendSpeak — the domesticapproach to Let’s Start Talking — was launched to attract neighbors interestedin learning to speak and read English.
“In some cases, weread Luke and Acts, and we’ve seen them develop their speaking ability andknowledge of the Lord right before our eyes,” Sandifer said.
Kurt Ryder and DrewBattistelli with the Storefront church, Pineville, La., say their church averages 65in the pews each Sunday morning.
On Wednesday nights,their group sometimes triples as they fan out across the community.
Ryder said the factthat Storefront, in southern Louisiana,gives 10 percent of its annual budget back to the four or five nonprofit groupsit serves is a testament to its mission.
“In our circles, wetend to close ourselves in,” Ryder said. “We build these big, fine buildingsand say, ‘If we build it, they will come.’ But we wear our Christianity on ourshirt sleeves, and the outside world never sees anything we do.”