Big city, small town —
Reaching America's communities is every church's responsibility
Pastor Scott Reed of First Assembly of God in Mountainburg, Ark., believes churches are the lifelines of America's rural communities. Pastor Maury Davis of Cornerstone Church in Madison, Tenn., near Nashville, shares that passion for America's cities. District Superintendent Dwight Sandoz of Nebraska is calling on AG churches across that state to identify and meet the needs around them. Reed, Davis and Sandoz talked recently with Scott Harrup, senior associate editor.
tpe: Do you have a central focus for community outreach?
REED: We have a monthly outreach plan to help meet different needs around us. This month, for example, we baked cookies and took them to schools. Then we identified children and teenagers who wouldn't have a Christmas and our church family supplied them with gifts. Last month we prepared food boxes at Thanksgiving. In general, we try to give our people a monthly focus. Sometimes that grows into a multimonth project.
SANDOZ: Several years ago we started our REACH Nebraska emphasis to give our pastors a framework for outreach. REACH stands for "Revitalize, Equip, Assess, Coach and Harvest." Each part of the plan focuses first on our pastors and churches. We want to plant new churches and revitalize existing churches. But these churches in turn get a passion for their communities.
DAVIS: We've just concluded a 10-year project to meet needs in Kenya. We've identified 2007 as a year of dedicated outreach to the greater Nashville area. We'll bring the resources we've been directing toward Kenya and focus them on Nashville throughout the year. Our goal is to give every person in Nashville a personal invitation to church and provide a personal witness for Christ.
tpe: Could you describe how a personal witness for Christ can be expressed through practical ministry?
DAVIS: We're going to knock on every door in Madison during two weekends in March, inviting people to church. But during that time we will be identifying seven to 10 homes that need to be made over. In June we're planning a "Madison Makeover" of those homes. We'll be mowing their yards, fixing roofs, painting walls, washing and repairing the homes inside and out.
REED: One of our monthly projects this year has become a real witness to our community. We began Garret's Project in the spring for a young man with muscular dystrophy. Our youth pastor, Marty Cluck, brought this need to our attention. Garret graduated from Mountainburg High School. We've done a complete home makeover for him — new roof, new windows, new doors, a concrete driveway, wheelchair access, kitchen cabinets, landscaping, vinyl siding, the whole deal.
SANDOZ: A number of our churches are focusing on the needs of the growing Hispanic community in our state. They offer basic life skills classes, English tutoring, some basic medical services. It's essential our churches remain outward focused.
tpe: What do you say to the pastor who believes his or her church is too small to do anything meaningful in their community?
REED: When I came to Mountainburg 10 years ago, we had $700 in the church checking account. Even though our finances were small we determined right away we would take a step of faith and reach the community. Community outreach has been a primary source of our growth. In a recent Sunday/Monday family revival, we had 484 people come to First Assembly. Our population is only 682 officially. We had 85 people respond to Christ. A lot of those people heard about us through our "small" monthly projects.
Garret's Project started out as just doing some yard work and painting. But everyone got on board. You have to take a step of faith. Money follows generosity. Blessings follow ministry. You step out on faith. You find a need and you meet it.
DAVIS: Years ago when we were running about 240 on Sunday morning, we had a telephone drive. We personally phoned 20,000 homes. We found 2,000 people who were interested in Cornerstone Church. We ended up with 179 visitors, and 79 of those people are still with us 14 years later.
You don't focus on how small your congregation is. You focus on how many people your congregation can reach. When you make 20,000 phone calls, you have effectively touched a community. Now we recognize new members every three months — often 150 at a time.
SANDOZ: I believe all ministry of lasting value has a local church connection. Without the local church, no ministry has long life because it has to be where people are. It has to have continuation in a local community. And that's true, regardless of the church's size.
tpe: Many pastors see local schools as a vital mission field. How are you reaching out to schools?
DAVIS: We're making our sanctuary available free of charge to any local high school that wants to hold its graduation there. We normally rent the sanctuary for $5,000-$7,000, depending on the media amenities required. We're going to shoot video of the graduations and give a DVD to each parent. I'll be greeting those families personally on the video.
REED: Arkansas has the third-largest population of food-insecure families in the nation. There were kids getting in trouble in the lunchroom because they were trying to steal food. When we heard about that we began a backpack program. On Friday, our volunteers fill backpacks with food for children of all ages to take home and help their families make it until Monday. It's one of the most meaningful outreaches we have. I still get emotional talking about it.
And we stay focused on schools through the year. When the kids go back to school in August we offer free haircuts and new backpacks. In September we have a family revival at church and a school assembly program tied in with that. And we're promoting a Bible club through Youth Alive and Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
tpe: How can churches keep both world missions and local outreach in focus?
REED: Our fall missions convention features U.S. and world missions on consecutive weeks. If we don't reach America, we're not going to reach the world. It all starts here. Reach Mountainburg, reach America, reach the world.
It's all about people. We have always tried to love and care for people. I emphasize three themes for our small group leaders to pursue: deeper in Christ, deeper with each other and deeper in the community. That's how the lost are reached, whether that's in Mountainburg or the world.
SANDOZ: I'm convinced all pastors should be missionaries in their approach to ministry. The church should see itself on a mission. If we do that, we become outward-focused. The challenge is that historically the older a church is, the less outward-focused it is and the more it looks toward its own programs. As a church ages it must continually work to keep the focus outward.
DAVIS: Cornerstone Church has a very unique but distinct missions vision. Missions Pastor Jeff Gregory has been organizing and facilitating teams to build churches in Kenya. Our goal has been to build a church within walking distance of every Kenyan. Pastor Jeff not only takes missions teams from Cornerstone, but he also takes other teams from other churches to help build churches in Kenya. After constructing the churches, Cornerstone finds and places pastors in the newly built church. That's been a wonderful ministry for the past 10 years.
But we're just as focused on Nashville for 2007. We're adding to our regular television program a billboard campaign, six mailing campaigns and a TV and radio commercial campaign. We're increasing our media to include a local television show on Fox and CBS, news coverage and talk show relationships, as well as buying advertising on all the major networks and cable outlets for one year. The mailing campaign will total about 250,000 specifically designed mailers.
The purpose of Pentecost is to be a witness. We have got to get every Assemblies of God pastor to mobilize every Assemblies of God person and put them in a field that is white for harvest.
tpe: How would you summarize your long-term vision?
SANDOZ: About half of Nebraskans surveyed say they don't go to church. We call them "functionally unchurched." They might go on Easter or Christmas, but they really don't have a faithful relationship with the church.
We have a goal to bring 10 percent of the unreached of Nebraska into our churches, or about 5 percent of the state population. That would represent five-fold growth for the Assemblies of God in this state. And for that to happen, we need to see church multiplication among the large as well as the small churches. Our goals include everything from two churches of 5,000 down to 62 churches of 75.
REED: Jesus was once asked, "What is the central, most important command of God?" Jesus said it was to love God with all your heart and love other people as you love yourself. When you boil everything down, it boils down to relationships.
When people ask me how our church has grown in such a small community, I tell them, "You build relationships." Our goal is to mobilize our congregation so they are equipped to reach others and make disciples.
DAVIS: I go back to Jesus' statement about those fields white for harvest. I was driving with my 11-year-old son to a men's retreat awhile back. On the right side of the road was a large cotton field.
I spent 8½ years of my life in prison. That's where I got saved. And I picked cotton.
"Dillon," I said to my son, "that's a cotton field."
"Wow," he said, "it's all white, Dad."
I pulled over. We went out and picked a few bolls of cotton so he'd know what it felt like in his hand.
"You know," I told him, "every day when I was in prison I had to pick 400 pounds of that before I could quit."
A lot of times that was 10 to 12 hours of work before that guard would let me go to bed. And sometimes I wonder if God is as intentional about us getting out there every day among those fields of souls. And I wonder if we're as intentional about getting to the end of the day and getting our quota.
I put some cotton in a bag for Dillon and said, "I want you to remember this. That's what we're called to be doing for people. Getting them off of the vine and into the bag."
E-mail your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.