Developing a Many-Sided Evangelism
By C. Wayne Zunkel
In the arithmetic of God, churches multiply by dividing. We have already noted that a single-celled congregation does not grow. People need more than one basic group to take hold of and relate to. As the number of groups increase, the possibilities for people to relate and be tied into the program also increase.
Mane congregations have a one-sided ministry. They may be, for example, a “family church” . . . perhaps middle-class, old-fashioned values, parents and children together in worship, family night fellowship activities they keep the traditional home strong.
That is not an unworthy type of ministry.
However, 41 percent of the community in which I live is single: It is made up of never married, or divorced, or widowed people. Many of them will remain single. They feel cut off, shut out.
In our community are also Koreans. Many do not speak English. They eat Korean food. They observe Korean customs.
There are also Vietnamese. They, too, feel cut off. They want to be with people who speak their language and share their history and customs.
Many Mexican-Americans live among us. Many expect someday to return to Mexico. Many speak Spanish. They prefer their foods; they cherish their celebrations.
There are Cubans who also speak Spanish. But they feel no ties to Mexicans. Their foods, hopes, politics, and expectations are very different.
Some members are geographically distant from our church. They are close friends, but travel time prevents them from full participation.
There are deaf people in our community. They feel alienated from the church. They feel uncomfortable in crowds of hearing people.
The truth is that probably most congregations have a one-sided ministry. They attract one kind of people and serve them. But in every community is the possibility for using the same facility and resources to meet the needs of more than one kind of people. This is the possibility that we want to explore together now.
Jim Smoke, who was singles’ director for the huge Crystal Cathedral and now works with Hollywood Presbyterian Church, says that work among singles today is the pioneering edge, similar to what work among teenage youth was 30 or 40 years ago.’
I heard him outline his program, with special activities for each ten-year age span. But what a staff that took. Only a large, rich church could ever embark on such a ministry, I thought.
Then I happened to read an article in a Faith at Work magazine entitled “Everybody Needs Family” It told of a group that calls itself the “Black Sheep”—eight men and women who are members of the large, famous Marble Collegiate Church in New York City. But theirs is a small group. All are singles. They work at different kinds of jobs in different parts of the city. Each lives alone and has an extra need for the “family” they find together. They represent a cross section of middle-class professionals who share the Christian faith and the desire to make the most of their lives.
They didn’t come together overnight. It took them a while to find each other and become a group. It began with a luncheon group that met for six weeks on Wall Street as part of their congregation’s annual Lenten program.
They liked the luncheons but found the time limit frustrating. They had trouble finding a night when they could meet. Some dropped out, but three refused to give up.
As they talked, they discovered that in their own families each had been called “the black sheep,” so that became their name. In one way or another, each of them had been a rebel—the first to leave home, or the one who went off and did something unexpected, or the one who left the small town for New York City.
The author of the article first went to Marble Collegiate Church almost in defiance; to show her mother she had not abandoned her faith. But something kept drawing her back. Eventually she found this set of friends.
The group doesn’t follow any set pattern when they meet, but they spend a lot of time together. Often they eat an evening meal together. Sometimes they study the Bible; sometimes they share dreams and goals. Sometimes they just ventilate their frustrations of the day. They pray at the beginning and ending of everything they do–whether it is skiing together or cleaning the ivy beds around the church.
One member’s father died of cancer, and the group came together to share in that grief. Another had a bout of her own cancer. “I’m scared to death,” she said. “I don’t know how to cope. I know I can’t do it alone.” Another had a special promotion at work, and they all celebrated.
As I read their story I thought, That can even happen in a little church like one of mine! A handful of singles who care about each other and have a dedication to the faith is all it takes. “Two or three in My name.”
Indeed, the very smallness has strengths that a huge conglomerate of singles might miss entirely.
For the small group at Marble Collegiate, their group is not a dating resource. It is a resource for intimacy—not in the popular sense of sexual activity—but an intimacy of sharing and caring.
Most of our congregations could help foster such a ministry to a group in our midst.
Among the Deaf
A friend of mine, Bud Roufs, pastors the Salem Lutheran Church in Glendale, Calif. In his congregation was one deaf child and some parents who didn’t want the silence barrier to shut their child off from full participation in the family of God. The mother began signing each service for her daughter. Other deaf persons began to come—four to six each Sunday.
The Glendale Club for the Deaf began to show their captioned films in the church’s social hall on a weeknight. About 50 persons began to come. The church discovered that deaf people love occasions when the deaf are together. They love to stand and “chatter” without interference from a lot of hearing people.
Other activities developed, such as monthly luncheons.
The church began to provide an interpreter during worship, but the number in worship still remained about six to eight. But when the congregation had someone who would preach and sign together, the number of deaf people attending rose to near 20.
They discovered some reasons for this. The average reading ability of deaf people, even those with high school diplomas, is somewhere between the fifth and seventh grade.
When a person signs what another says, they also discovered, it is not simply English done with the hands. It has a completely different syntax and grammar.
Pastor Roufs asked the person who signs the service if it is like English. The person replied, “No, it is more like Chinese.” Deaf people tend to think in symbols. Spoken sermons tend to be abstract and difficult for the deaf to relate to. They are forced into a strange, unfamiliar world.
The pastor discovered that many deaf people feel resentful toward the church because they have been excluded from meaningful participation all their lives.
In September 1980, the congregation secured a pastor for the deaf, John Soyster. At the installation, a Sunday evening service geared to the deaf, there was signed liturgical dance and there were mimes. Pastor Roufs described the evening as “truly exciting.
The deaf have been given their own place of worship, the church parlor, which is equipped with altar and pulpit. The entire service is signed. Everything is spoken and signed, or sung and signed, at the same time.
The average attendance grew to between 27 and 30 in five months. About half of those who attended were deaf. Others were friends, persons interested in learning to sign, or some simply curious people.
The experience is unique in the American Lutheran Church. While three other congregations in that communion have separate church buildings and organizations for the deaf, this is the first time a deaf congregation is a part of a hearing congregation.
This is the homogeneous unit principle (about which Church Growth experts theorize and critics love to argue) at its very best: reaching out to people in their own “heart language,” permitting them entrance into the Kingdom of God in ways they can understand.
It is Salem’s intent that the congregations should stay together. In this way, resources of place and program, of money and people, are readily avail-able. Yet each group has its own identity and worships in its most meaningful ways.
Social Leper Colonies
In Jesus’ day, people with leprosy were feared. With the disease, fingers, toes, hands, or feet might drop off. People avoided leprosy victims, not wanting to see distorted faces or a missing nose: The masses were terribly afraid that they, too, might contract the disease. Lepers were driven off to live in caves, to band together to try to scratch enough food to survive.
In our day, says George Hunter, there are social leper colonies. 4 He tells of a church that opened its doors for a party for mentally handicapped children. One night a month the children were brought to play together and be entertained.
While the children played, the parents stood and watched. Then someone from the church suggested that since their children were occupied, they might like to go to a nearby room and sit together and talk. There they began to share their struggles, their hopes, their fears, their uncertainties about the future, their problems, and the burdens they bore.
Eighty families have become a part of that effort.
Another pastor of a very small church had a unique gift for hospital visitation. Sometimes the best of friends draw back from going to the hospital. Sick people are not the people many others most want to see. But this pastor did it well. As a result of his faithful, caring ministry, one after another of those he ministered to in a time of need and loneliness began to relate to that congregation.
The elderly are among those cut off many times. My wife is a night supervisor in a convalescent home. She has worked in many such homes and has seen the old deserted, all rights taken from them, forced into situations against their wills. ‘Sometimes they are abused physically. A person with a mind that wanders but is still clear enough to know what is happening will cry out, “Don’t hit me again; I’ll do what you want.” Some people are bruised, their bones are sometimes broken, limbs twisted. Some are abused by their own children.
Even in the church, the impact of the youth culture has told us that a senior high youth group or a young-couples’ class is where the pay dirt is. A very small congregation will begin clamoring, “If only we had someone to develop a high school group. That’s the future of the church.”
The truth is that a very low percentage of any high school groups stay on in that congregation to become the pillars.
Meanwhile, older people may be very near who are lonely and will eagerly respond to any attempt to reach out to them in love.
Increasingly in many of our communities are people of other cultures. If they are to be reached, it must be by someone who speaks their languages and understands their needs, their dreams, their fears, their hopes.
One of the congregations I serve now has a Korean church and, more recently, a Spanish church. Each has services in its own language. With the Korean congregation we hold occasional shared services. We sing the same hymns—they in Korean and we in English. Their pastor and I alternate reading each verse of Scripture in one language and then the other. The sermon is preached a paragraph at a time and interpreted. We always share a noon meal of food from both cultures.
The beauty and integrity of each culture is pre-served as we celebrate together our love for the Christ for whom red, yellow, black, and white are all precious.
The irrepressible Southern Baptists in the Los Angeles area each Sunday morning hold services in some 26 different languages. But even that is not enough, because 82 specific languages have been identified in the Los Angeles school district.
Any California school having ten or more children who speak a language must provide opportunity for them to continue to develop skills in their own language as well as in English. Can the church of Christ do less?
Congregational Church Planting
Dr. Carl Segerhammar, a leading Lutheran pastor in Southern California, served a 1,000-member congregation in downtown Los Angeles early in his ministry. During each of his nine years there, he took in an average of 100 new members.
Yet when he left that congregation, the member-ship was 150 less than on the day he began his ministry there. In the meantime, however, 18 new Lutheran congregations had been organized, and all but one of them started with a core of members from that mother congregation he served. Years later the congregation developed services within its own walls in Spanish, Finnish, and Korean.
That’s a large church, you say. But your church and mine, however small, can be involved in the same kind of activity.
Across the country I know of many congregations which have a cluster of families in an area too far removed for regular, full participation. They can begin with a monthly evening Bible study and fellowship time for this group. They may grow to a church school and preaching service, maybe held in someone’s family room. They may be serviced at first by the pastor of the mother church, who does double duty for a time.
One example: Larry Kemp pastors a 65-member Church of the Brethren congregation in Tucson, Arizona. He has discovered a cluster of 15 members who live 35 miles away in Avra Valley. Even in the wide-open spaces of Arizona, that is a long way to travel to church. Every Thursday the minister travels to Avra Valley to meet with them for fellowship and Bible study. They are ready now to begin services on a Sunday afternoon. A new church is being born.
Jack Redford, master church planter for the Southern Baptists, says, “One person with an open heart, an open Bible, and an open living room is sufficient to begin.”
And out of such fellowships, strong churches grow. Often both congregations are strengthened in giving and attendance as a result.
Some people resist everything about Church Growth because they feel a guilt trip has been laid on those who do not grow.
It needs to be said that some faithful churches will not grow. Indeed, some churches, because of special ministries or of a unique calling to a prophetic ministry, should not expect to make significant – growth. There are congregations with a special witness that makes any measurable growth highly unlikely.
But all congregations share in the mandate of the Great Commission. All of us, whatever our calling or unique ministry, must share in some way in the larger picture of God’s passion that all might be drawn to Him.
This may mean being instrumental in church planting somewhere else. It may mean developing a ministry to other groups using our own facilities.
At this point let me inject a note of caution: “rentals” will not do it. My own experience is that when an outside agency rents the church building for its program—a day-care group, a senior citizens pro-gram, or the Boy Scouts—the feed in to the church is almost nonexistent.
On the other hand, if the same kind of program can be provided as a ministry of the church, staffed at least in part by church people, the feed in to the church may be fairly high if the program is good.
A nursery school run by a secular organization at one of the churches I served brought in no one. But in another congregation where the nursery was still community-based but undergirded by excellent teachers from the church, the results were different. Family after family saw the beautifully equipped rooms for their children, thrilled to the excellent care and professional adequacy, and wanted that same quality of religious training at the church school hour.
Jack Redford puts it this way:
We, as God’s people, are to show God’s love to all people. That’s what community cultivation and church planting are all about: showing people that God loves them and that they need Jesus Christ in their lives. A word of &caution: the love we show must be genuine; the care must come from the heart. The ministries begun—to senior citizens, Mother-Day-Out projects, day-care centers—demonstrate that a church loves people, is concerned about people, and is in the community to help meet the real needs of people. If we want to build churches anywhere in the world, we must build bridges to people. We reach people by becoming friends with them, by meeting a need, or by becoming involved in an area of interest.
So the rule of thumb is: minimize rentals. Begin at the point of need in your community, and provide that service yourself out of your own love.
Opportunity Around Us
To state Robert Schuller’s secret of success again: “Find a need and meet it. Find a hurt and heal it.”
There are hurting people all around us, rejected or bypassed by society—blind, deaf, handicapped, retarded, elderly, and even singles, who are making up an increasingly larger portion of our society.
The place to start may be within your own congregation. Is there a handicapped person, a blind or deaf person, someone with a retarded child? Do they have friends who would respond to a ministry that your congregation, however small, might begin to develop?
Do we have the eyes to see those who are hurting? They are there. Do we have the ears to hear their cries, the minds to discern their special needs? Do we have the hands and hearts and the wills to reach out and bring them in?
This article “Developing a Many-Sided Evangelism” written by C. Wayne Zunkel is excerpted from his book Growing the Small Church a Guide for Church Leaders.