Counting 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.
- Where do you serve?
- 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!”