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Blurring the Lines Between Church and Community
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Churches that are Discovering and Meeting Community Needs
by V. Michelle Bernard  

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A year after having his home rebuilt by the Extreme Home Repair Ministry (Aldergrove, BC) Walt Grochowski walked through the doors of the Aldergrove Seventh-day Adventist Church.

Grochowski had never heard of Adventists before they helped rebuild his home. He describes the day he and his wife found out their home was selected as “like seven angels came down and lifted us up from the depths of hell and brought us to heaven on earth, the Seventh-day Adventists showed us the Christ that cares.”

Grochowski says he always believed in God, but the Extreme Home Repair gave his family a new beginning, which led to Bible studies with Pastor Michael Dauncey. His family now participates in the home makeovers and other projects and attends the church.

Aldergrove’s Extreme Home Repair Ministry has worked on 11 homes and is helping blur the lines between the church and the Aldergrove community.

Aldergrove Associate Pastor Michael Dauncey says about half of the volunteers in the Extreme Home Repair project, now in its 10th year, are not members.  

 Not all volunteers end up members, but some do.
 Aldergrove’s membership has grown from in the 200s to the 800s since becoming heavily involved in community ministry says Dauncey.

 A non-member even donated $18,000 of labor and materials to the 2012 project, started serving as a leader in the ministry, and now attends the church says Dauncey.

“Often it takes time, but without the Extreme Home Repair there we would never have had that relationship.  It breaks down walls from our church and community,” he says.

Provo Adventist Community Services has helped build strong relationships with their local soup kitchen, the Red Cross, the United Way and the local ministerial association.

Their community service focus has “opened the doors to relationships with civil society that are not always open to Adventist churches” says Dr. William Davis, pastor of the Provo (Utah) Seventh-day Adventist Church.

In addition to community service activities, the center hosts gymnastics, sports, and even the Utah Valley Symphony Orchestra in their facility.

“With nearly 300 people using the facility during the week they see it as a part of their community and not just a church of another faith,” says Davis.

The amount and diversity of community needs can be overwhelming, but these churches have found meaningful, relevant ways to help the community---something that doesn’t just happen by chance.
 
Meeting and discovering community needs
 “We (Adventists) have a field of dreams approach. ‘Build it they will come,’ says Dan Appell, senior pastor of the Auburn (California) Seventh-day Adventist Church, of many community service programs. “But we have to be in the community to be aware of what the needs are,” he continued.

Before starting a community ministry Appel says to “quit looking at the church as a project and begin to look at each individual as someone who God loves and treat them with dignity and respect… then God will lead us to the tools we need to accomplish what we need to accomplish.”

The Auburn Church’s community center now provides up to 1500 individuals a month with food, clothing and personal hygiene supplies, and hosts a rotating homeless shelter, among other projects.

They have also worked with many community members to begin the Auburn Renewal Center, which offers free medical, dental, vision, and psychiatric health services.

Pastor Kevin Kuehmichel and Walk of Faith Fellowship Church (Cleveland) have immersed themselves in the community and took time to understand its needs.

Kuehmichel lives in the community where the church is located, volunteers at the local city recreation center and hangs out with the kids.  The church also worships in its community center.

 In the last five years the church has had four baptisms, and there are five people regularly attending because of the center, but Kuehmichel says they don’t pressure their “clients” into joining the church.

 “What we do is a slow, no pressure process,” he said. “People are comfortable in the building and they come in when we are worshipping.  We don't have to transition them from the community center to a church somewhere else.”

 The New Hope Seventh-day Adventist Church (Fulton, Md) is located in a wealthy community, also helps local shelters and food banks, but is working on ways to serve the more fortunate.

“When people go through a crisis they turn to God,” says New Hope Senior Pastor Mike Speegle.  We have to find ways to engage them when they aren’t going through a crisis he continued…“We have to figure out ways to engage people and celebrate the good stuff that is going on in their life.”

New Hope engages the community by sponsoring a Sunday sports program for children and family entertainment activities at Highland Day, a local community event.

 New Hope Outreach Director, Laura Krause, says local community leaders “appreciate that we are not in their faces about our religion, but that we can relate to them and have fun along with them.”

Speegle’s last church, Journey Adventist Church (Kelso, Wash.) held yearly Easter and Christmas “experiences” that drew repeat visitors from the community each year, with over 7,000 attending over several nights last year.

These events, staffed by members and community volunteers, also gave members the opportunity develop deeper relationships that might not have happened otherwise.

In that community everybody knew about and had a good concept of the Adventist church says Speegle.

Motivating members
“Members being involved is the key to success in any church,” says Speegle. But he says pastors need to first answer the “why” questions members would have by telling them the project will accomplish.  

He also says it is important for churches to provide multiple opportunities to be engaged.  One hundred percent of our members won’t be involved 100 percent of the time, but we can help their involvement be as meaningful and successful as we can, he says.

Davis says he has a group within his church that has been highly motivated over the years. “Others become interested as they try serving and realize the joy it brings them and others.  They spread the news among themselves and the work grows,” he says.

Kuehmichel says his members started getting more involved after he began volunteering by coaching baseball and flag football at the city recreation center.
 He says he was able to bring stories of real people in need and hurting to the church.

 “What I found in my personal experience was that you can't tell someone else to get involved in you aren't,” says Kuehmichel. “Find something you can do, even if it isn't your church doing it, and get involved.”
 
SIDE BAR: Tips for designing your community service program from Dan Appell
 
1} Don’t try to clone us!  Get out in your community, get to know them, discover their needs, then allow God to lead you into what He wants you do in that place.

2) Examine your motives. If this is about your personal, local church or denominational ego, God will not be able to bless you.  All too often our “felt-needs” ministries are really bait-and-switch tactics that people quickly see through and resent.  

3) Focus on connecting people with Jesus and they will be naturally be drawn to you without any pressure or manipulation.

4) Allow the Holy Spirit to melt your heart with love for those in your community and then serve them not as lords or the ones in the “white hats” but as servants for Christ’s sake.

5) Actually get out and get involved in the community.  As long as the salt is in the salt-shaker it may be pretty but it’s pretty much useless.  Join community projects.  Join local service clubs, and get to know your neighbors.