Rochester Church of Christ’s Project ONE22

Project ONE22 Logo 2016Counting members in a church is pretty easy, but evaluating the growth of disciples has long been a challenge for most church leaders. While I am not confident that we have perfected this, our leadership team has come up with what we believe is a healthy and practical means of measuring discipleship among our members. In short, we ask that our members have an inward and outward expression of their faith.

Here is our premise: Every disciple should be able to answer two questions.

  1. Where do you serve?
  2. Where do you witness?

We define service as those activities whose primary beneficiaries are within the church body—things like teaching Bible classes, staffing the nursery, weeding the flower beds at the building, etc. We define witness as those activities whose primary beneficiaries are outside of the church body—things like personal Bible studies with an unchurched neighbor, serving at a local foodbank, going on a mission trip. Of course, some things are both, but usually they fall into one category more than the other. And yes, it means that many service projects are actually witness projects if the recipient of our service does not know Jesus yet (more on that in just a moment).

We have found that while opportunities to serve inwardly abound (who isn’t looking for more volunteers for children’s worship hour and communion servers, am I right?), most folks had trouble identifying where they witnessed outwardly. So we made it a priority to develop a means by which more of our folks could bear faithful witness putting their faith into practice. One of our most successful efforts at developing healthy outreach that engages and energizes our body for witness has been something we call Project ONE22.

I (Adam) have asked Brian Bowers, our Minister of Community Life, to share some reflections and practical wisdom about this initiative which he leads so ably for Rochester Church. Here are his thoughts…

Over the past three years, Project ONE22 has become one of our most effective means of outreach at Rochester Church of Christ.  Project ONE22 is a day of service which takes its name from James 1:22, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.”  This bi-annual day of service deploys 200 to 250 people into 15 to 20 separate service projects.

We divide our projects by type—projects for people in the church, projects with ministry partners (organizations or ministries with whom our church partners), and projects for community members.  While I’m happy to serve inside our church and to help ministry partners, the projects for community families are my favorite. These are where we bear some of our best witness.

Rochester Church has established a strong relationship with the office of the Mayor of Rochester Hills, and we strongly encourage developing partnerships with your local officials for projects like this.  We started by calling the Mayor’s office and asking for jobs that no one else wanted to do.  Initially, we were given jobs in a local nature preserve and in local parks (landscaping and building a bridge).  Having now worked with the Mayor’s office for four iterations of P122, we have proven to be capable and enthusiastic; our church is now trusted with service that is much more outreach in nature, serving local families who for various reasons cannot help themselves.  In most cases, these families are elderly (many are widows or widowers) and/or low income. In every case, these are people to whom we can reach out with the love and good news of Jesus simply by being good neighbors.

P122 has become for us an embodiment of putting the Word into action.  It’s faith in motion.  When we serve others, we show them in a tangible way that God loves them and God has chosen them.

A P122 story: the Mayor’s office suggested we help Lori—a 53 year-old single woman who came on the Fire Department’s radar.  Lori has been diagnosed with Multiple sclerosis.  Over the last two years, she had declined rapidly and desperately needed a handicap accessible ramp, as she was struggling to go up and down stairs with her walker.

Our church agreed to build her a ramp, which ended up being quite large in size since her porch is fairly high off the ground.  Very quickly, I made some calls and found a church member named Mark who agreed to lead the project.  Over half a dozen church members volunteered to join the project, but the bottleneck on this project was the cost of materials.  We had about $300 available for the project; the material cost totaled to $1,700!  I made some more calls, and through God’s provision, both of the major construction stores in town (Lowe’s and Home Depot) contributed materials to the project.

This is notable: a church, the mayor’s office, and local businesses partnered together for a service project.  When a religious institution, a government office, and local businesses work together, that’s a win in anyone’s book!

Mark and his team put in a lot of work (more than 80 person-hours, in total).  We sent several folks over to just sit and talk with her while the work was done.  RCC gave her a couple of tangible gifts in addition to the ramp.  One of our members even bought her a new walker (unprompted by anyone other than the Spirit).  While this is the most outstanding example of how Project ONE22 helps our church do outreach, our last day of service accomplished 18 separate projects.

Your church can do this, too!

There’s nothing extraordinary about P122, other than seeing God’s Spirit at work and following madly along.  We ask around for people who need help—inside our church, with ministries we know, and with our local government.  As needs are surfaced, we help meet them.

The first essential person you will need is someone who can lead the initiative as a whole. My role in coordinating Project ONE22 involves lots of different pieces. I’m the primary person who surfaces the projects by asking the questions, but other people tell me who needs the help. In most cases, I personally visit the sites to make sure I have a clear picture of the work that needs to be done and what resources are required.

The most critical part of the process is to find the right leader for each project.  That leader needs to have the requisite skills to accomplish the task, so if the project requires specialized skills, I survey our church to see who can do that kind of work and find a leader from that pool.  I take great joy in using P122 to develop new leaders in our church, rather than constantly going to people who already are accomplished leaders.

After I’ve contact each of the people or ministries we serve, the project leaders take over.  Without an exception, every leader steps up by owning the job by putting in hours of preparation, often involving personal sacrifice.  Many even go back after the day to finish details.  Finding the right project leaders is key to making an endeavor like this work optimally.

Rochester Church does P122 on a Sunday.  We worship together in the morning, work together in the afternoon, then come together for a dinner on Sunday evening.  Our church has really caught the vision of serving others (200 plus people serving proves that!), and it has become a vital part of our church’s practice of faith.  While the purpose of P122 is to serve others, the side benefit of how serving with one another develops our church’s relationships with one another is extraordinary.  When people serve together and recognize giftedness in one another, it forms a bond that looks very much like God’s Kingdom.  Communal development is a pretty extraordinary side benefit!

God is using Project ONE22 to shape the community inside Rochester Church of Christ while at the same time we are able to connect with the community outside our church.  There is an age-old question that haunts every minister: “Does my community look any different because of my church?”  In our case, by the grace and power of God, we can answer that question with a very enthusiastic: “Yes!”

Prayer and Evangelism

Jesus connected prayer and mission and we should as well. He prayed for his disciples before he left and for the impact on the world. He taught the disciples to pray prior to their going out on mission in Luke 10. Here is what he said there,

“After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. Do not take a purse or bag or sandals; and do not greet anyone on the road.” – Luke 10:1-3

What might you expect Jesus to instruct his disciples to pray for before being sent out?

You might expect them to pray for success. You might expect them to pray for safety or for open hearts.

Jesus instructs those who are going on mission to pray for God to send people on mission. Why is that because they are already on their way to those they are praying God sends someone to?

I think there are a few reasons this makes sense.

First, God sends people before he sends you and usually those are people you will never know or have a clue were ever sent. I cannot tell you how many times I have reached out to someone where there wouldn’t have been success if God had not first sent someone to that person other than me prior to my arrival. I know that is like praying a prayer you believe must have been answered before it was prayed but I think that is what makes it a prayer of faith. If someone harvests it there must have been someone to have first sown and someone who has already done the watering.

Second, I think you can only pray for God to send someone before you finally decide to take action yourself. This is why I get people who are interested in evangelism but are too afraid to study with someone to first start by praying for the lost. You can only pray they be reached so long before you get convinced that it is you who needs to make the attempt to reach them.

What would happen if we prayed this prayer? Why is that even a part of the story because Jesus is in the process of directly sending those he tells to ask it. Isn’t it answered by their going or is something else going on?

Last, notice whose field it is. It is “his harvest field.” God is sending us to places he already possesses. It is all His. We are His. They are His. Everything is His. Because of that we can pray and go with freedom and boldness because we do so with a recognition that it is not just others who go before but God himself as well.

Rekindling our evangelistic spirit starts with prayer. The going will follow.

Kairos conversations

In this series of articles about outreach, we’ve noted that the church has to break free of its inward focus in order to effectively reach out to the community. We’ve noted that Christians have to intentionally get involved in the lives of non-Christians. And we’ve looked some at the conversion process and the different evangelistic tasks involved.

Now I’d like to discuss those special times we have with people who are close to committing themselves to God. I call these times kairos conversations.

In New Testament Greek, there were two words commonly used to describe time. One was chronos, the objective description of time. This is time as a quantity: minutes, hours, days. The other word is kairos, a subjective description of time. This is time as a quality: the right time, the opportune time. We see this is Paul’s writing when he says, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.” (Ephesians 5:15–16)

“Time” in that sentence is kairos. It’s an opportunity, the correct time for doing something. So a kairos conversation is one that occurs at that time when a person is open to talking about deep, spiritual things. It’s the time for talking about the gospel and how to respond to it.

How do we recognize this kairos? We listen. Far and away, the most important skill in evangelism is listening. People worry about what they’re going to say; they should worry about how they’re going to listen.

What are some of the things we’re listening for?

  • Life events that create opportunities. Change often opens a door. This can be a move to a new city or the end of a relationship. It can be finishing a degree or losing a loved one. Whatever it is, change often leads people to evaluate their spiritual lives. (As I said before, none of this is to be viewed in a manipulative way! We aren’t trying to sell anything.)
  • Things in the past that need to be overcome. This could be ongoing sin or major issues that the person hasn’t been able to move past. Could be addictions. Could be bad relationships. Sometimes this has to do with bad experiences with religion or religious people.
  • Felt spiritual needs. Some people are attracted to the gospel out of a need for meaning in their life. For others, it’s a need for community. Some feel a deep-seated need for forgiveness while others are merely wanting to channel the spiritual feelings they’ve always had.

Research has shown that people are far more likely to convert and remain faithful if the gospel is presented to them as part of an open dialog, rather than a manipulative conversation. In the same way, if they see the other person as a friend, their is a higher chance of a successful outcome than if they see that person as a teacher or a salesman. We need to listen and share, rather than seeking to impose our ideas on others. That’s why the emphasis is on listening, rather than talking.

We want to share what God has done for us, talking about our positive experiences with the gospel. And we look for the chance to move the relationship forward. We can ask a question like: “Where are you in your spiritual journey?” If the person seems to be open to it, we can follow up by asking: “Are you ready to take the next step?”

At that point, we need to talk about Jesus. That may seem obvious, but many are tempted to talk about the church or points of doctrine or something else. We don’t talk about ourselves. We don’t focus on the other person’s past mistakes. We talk about Jesus.

And if the person isn’t ready, we don’t try to pressure them into anything. This isn’t about making a sale or getting another notch on our belt. We aren’t just interested in getting more people for our church; our goal is to make disciples. We want people to give themselves to Jesus and commit themselves to him from now on. Many times, such a commitment requires more than one conversation.

But there’s no greater joy than seeing another person grasp the good news of Jesus and eagerly respond to it. I hope that you get to experience that joy many times through the course of your Christian life.

 

CIO
Tim has recently published Church Inside Out, a book and workbook that offer a practical primer for the congregation that wants to increase its impact on the community around it. Both book and workbook are available from 21st Century Christian.

Evangelism Isn’t Just Harvesting

There was a time in the United States when it was safe to assume that people believed in God. Most people did. Most saw the Bible as an authoritative book. Most felt that going to church on Sunday was a good thing to do (whether they themselves did so or not).

Many of the best-known evangelistic models revolve around that mindset. You approach a stranger, invite them to study the Bible, and eventually make them members of your church.

However, there are some realities we need to face. Fewer and fewer people believe in God or the Bible. Of those that do, many no longer consider church to be a necessity. And very few people are ever converted by a stranger.

I’d like to suggest that we need to broaden our definition of what evangelism is. Look at what Paul said to the Corinthians:

“What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow.” (1 Corinthians 3:5–6)

Or think about what Jesus said to his disciples:

“Thus the saying ‘One sows and another reaps’ is true. I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor.” (John 4:37–38)

Conversion is a process, not an event. More times than not, many people play a role in that process. It’s not just “the closer,” the convincing evangelist that convinces the person of their need to be baptized. Using the terms in the passages above, that person harvested, but someone else may have planted and another watered. (And it’s always God that gives the growth!) God uses different believers in different ways to touch the lives of new converts.

So as we deal with the people around us, we need to recognize that they are at different points in their spiritual journey. To continue the agricultural terms, they may be an uncultivated field or they may be freshly plowed ground, ready for the planting. We need to be willing to treat people in different ways.

For those that are furthest from God, prayer is our greatest aid. We pray for a softening of their heart. We pray for opportunities. We pray for guidance in knowing how to interact with them. Prayer is an essential part of the conversion process in each and every step, but it’s especially crucial with those whose hearts are hard.

Other people have experienced a religious awakening and are beginning to seek answers. This is often related to a change in their life situation, like a new job or a new baby. Or it may be due to hardships like illness or financial stress. Whatever the reason, these people are beginning to look for something more. They especially need to see a Christian presence. They need to see our faith in action; not just going to church on Sunday, but serving the community and ministering to others.
As people move closer to God, they are ready for a more direct presentation of biblical truths. Maybe they’re ready to come to church. Or prepared to study the Bible. They are open to hearing the Christian message, be it through literature, small group meetings, or personal conversations. This is the point where we present the Christian message in general terms.

Then comes that time when the person understands the personal nature of the gospel, and they want to know how to respond. Now we can lay out the basics of how to become a Christian. As I said before, many of our evangelistic models begin at this point. Now the goal is to help them experience the new birth.

But that’s just an immediate goal. When Jesus sent his followers out in Matthew 28, their task was to make disciples. To do that, they were to baptize and to teach. When we baptize someone, we’ve only done the first part of making them a disciple. They need to be taught. They need to be trained. Our job isn’t finished; there’s still much to do. This is where we partner with them, coming alongside to model for them how to live a life that imitates Christ.

To help me remember, I use a bit of alliteration:

Prayer – Presence – Presentation – Proclamation – Partnership

Those are the basic tasks of evangelists, depending on where people are in their journey toward God.

The process isn’t a scientific one. People tend to move forward, then step back. Some skip steps along the way; I have a friend who was an atheist on Friday and was baptized on Sunday. But thinking about evangelism as a process helps us see the need to deal with different people in different ways.
It also reminds us that every time we help someone take a step closer to God, we’ve been active in evangelism. If we will make it a goal in each of our relationships to help that person move closer to God, we’ll discover the joy of sharing our faith. Eventually we’ll be comfortable helping people along no matter which stage of the journey they are at.

The last article will talk about what to share and who to share it with.

 

CIO
Tim has recently published Church Inside Out, a book and workbook that offer a practical primer for the congregation that wants to increase its impact on the community around it. Both book and workbook are available from 21st Century Christian.

To Reach Out We Must Look Out

In his book Transforming Worldviews, Paul Hiebert wrote:

The church and believers are called to worship God, to have fellowship with one another, and to bear witness to the gospel in a lost world. Of these three—worship, fellowship, and mission—the church and believers will do the first two better in heaven. It is only the last that they can do best here on earth.

In recent years, many within the church have become aware that our mission to the world is a broad one. We are called to further the kingdom in many ways, from working for social justice to caring for God’s creation. There are many groups that do some of the things that the church does: feed the poor, advocate for justice, work for better communities. We must never forget that the unique mission of the church is to share the good news of Jesus Christ.

The apostle Peter wrote:

“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” (1 Peter 2:9)

We have been chosen to go out into the world and declare God’s praises. We’ve been sent to live our Christian lives out among non-believers rather than cloistering ourselves within the walls of our church buildings.

Too often, our churches find themselves focused inwardly rather than looking out to the world. We’re consumed with discussions about worship styles and church policies. Our mission trips are focused on providing positive experiences for our members. Our resources are spent on staff to minister to Christians, buildings to make us comfortable, and activities to entertain our members.

The first step for a church to impact the community around it is for that church to look outward, rather than inward. How do we go about that? Here are a few suggestions:

  • Pray for your neighborhood and surrounding neighborhoods. Pray for those working within your community: first responders, schools, non-profits. Go on prayer walks, walking the streets around your church building, praying for the people that live and work there.
  • Conduct neighborhood surveys. Go out in your community and ask what you can do to better serve your area. Find out the needs, the concerns, and the hopes of the people that live there. Ask what people would like to see from your church. Above all, listen. Listen carefully. Show that you are interested.
  • Live Christ to earn the right to speak about Christ. There’s an old saying that says, “People don’t care what you know until they know what you care.” Jesus put it this way, “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). We must go into our communities with an attitude of service.
  • Put your gifts into action. One of the great tasks of Christian leaders is to help church members discover and utilize their gifts. We need to help our members find ways to use what God has given them in a way that serves the community. Where giftedness meets need, that’s our calling. Christians should pray about their gifts, experiment with different ministries, then look for some combination of positive results, personal satisfaction, and affirmation from the church.

The apostle Peter also wrote:

Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. (1 Peter 2:11–12)

Our churches must look outward and find ways to live their lives out among non-believers, so that those non-believers can come to glorify God. We are the salt of the earth, but if we stay bottled up in our salt shakers, our saltiness will be in vain. Without contact, there is no impact. We must find ways to get members out of the church building in order to bring outsiders in.

In the next article, we’ll look at some practical issues that arise when working with non-believers.
CIO
Tim has recently written Church Inside Out, a book and workbook that offer a practical primer for the congregation that wants to increase its impact on the community around it. Both book and workbook are available from 21st Century Christian.