GOD’S LOVE-NO STRINGS ATTACHED
BY JOY BECKER
“Small things done with great love will change the world.” That’s the ministry philosophy of Vineyard Community Church of Springdale, Ohio, a northern suburb of Cincinnati. This progressive church pastored by Steve Sjogren, recently celebrated their l0th-year anniversary. The church is part of the Association of Vineyard Churches founded by John Wimber, but its vision is unique to their congregation. Their vision statement reads: We are mercifully loved by the Awesome Living God..
Therefore we extend the contagious atmosphere of God’s Kingdom to every person in Cincinnati-to see our community enveloped in Christ’s love, acceptance and forgiveness….
Their beliefs can be narrowed down to what they call “the 4 Fs”: exalt, evangelize, encourage and empower. But it is their innovative approach to sharing Christ, called servant evangelism or ‘SE’ for short, that is putting this congregation on the map. Church leaders from across the world are calling and. visiting to see how SE actually works. To help others start similar ministries, they provide a variety of resources ranging from a free fax newsletter to Pastor Sjogren’s new book, Conspiracy of Kindness. You might say that even this gesture is yet another way Vineyard Community believes in being of service to others.
The active force behind their evangelism efforts is Chuck Mancini, Pastor of Outreach. Pastor Chuck has been on staff fulltime for 1-1/2 years. However, his relationship with the group began nine years ago when he came to the church to receive training as a church planter. To their credit, Vineyard Community has been instrumental in planting nine churches in the Cincinnati area.
Not surprisingly, as a result of their outreach programs, the church has exploded in growth. To meet the needs, they conduct a total of six weekend services or “celebrations” to accommodate the approximately
3,000 worshipers who attend. Many of those in attendance are a direct result of the creative outreach programs this body offers throughout the Cincinnati area. But they are quick to state that they are not in
the church growth business. “What we do is simply a demonstration of God’s love, and church growth is a by-product.”
Vineyard Community conducts their outreach programs with one goal in mind- to share God’s love with no strings attached. While most of us have held car washes, we usually charge a fee, and the event is done as a fundraiser. Not at Vineyard. They wash cars as a practical way of showing God’s love. As you can imagine, to the recipients, it seems too good to be true.
While there are no strings attached, they do leave people with a creative business-size card (see examples) that allows the individual to know who provided the service and why it was done. on the back of the card, there is a map to the church with service times, phone number and their fax number-a follow-up point if they choose to find us.”
They don’t hand out tracts because they believe that would defeat the concept of “free” that is part of SE projects. Mancini explains, “if we served and distributed tracts we would convey conditional love. In
other words, ‘We will help you if you read this literature. Still, they see nothing wrong with having tracts nearby for spontaneous conversations that might come out of the serving projects. But they do caution others not to come across as though they have an ulterior motive. “Pre-Christian can smell a mixed motive from block away.”
When it comes to outreach, washing cars is only the tip of the iceberg. The outreach groups participate in a variety of other activities, including leaf raking. The group simply drives around neighborhoods and up to a house and asks the owner if they their lawn. of course, the standard question from the homeowner is “how much will it cost.” Their answer is that they are from a local church and their effort is a gift to show God’s love. it’s all a little mind boggling to the owner.
Another popular outreach is drink give-a-ways. In this outreach, they go to sporting events, festivals, soccer games and open air markets and offer both hot and cold drinks, for free. They are careful not to set up where they might conflict with other vendors.
At windshield washes the teams go to parking lots and wash car windshields. once in awhile they set off a car alarm, but so far they have not had any problems, especially when owners find out their mission.
Another outreach entails giving away free smoke detector batteries. They go out into the community and knock on doors offering batteries, and of course, free installation if needed. In fact, there is a lot of door knocking involved in their outreach ministries. Yet, they have had no bad. experiences to speak of as one might expect.
Other programs include cleaning sidewalks and driveways, cleaning gutters, Popsicle giveaways, mowing lawns and feeding parking meters. Some programs require equipment and supplies, others require little more than good old elbow grease.
In fact, to be involved in a Vineyard outreach, all you have to do is show up ready to share God’s love. Pastor Mancini and others who work with him behind the scenes have the equipment and supplies ready in vans, so team members are not burdened with logistics.
Projects are financed totally by the church. While gifts are accepted, Vineyard Community sets aside 15 percent of its budget to fund the outreach ministry This donation allows the ministry to purchase drinks, equipment and supplies.
One interesting note about giveaways. Vineyard only gives out name brand products rather than generic believe their gift should available. This says a lot they feel about the community and people they are
trying to reach.
So far they have not countered any problems the local government or police. While varying restrictions apply from city to city, in Cincinnati they only have to obtain a permit from the city if they plan to display a sign. And police are grateful for the positive impact Vineyard is making in the community.
Another interesting outreach is where they go to Laundromats to offer laundry detergent and change for washing clothes. They simply stand outside and pass out their tangible love. Most will ask, “what’s the
catch.” To which the team members reply, “we are simply trying to show God’s love in a practical way.”
They also have had the church name printed on matches. on the inside is a map to the church and service times. They provide free boxes of these matches to convenient stores, bars, restaurants and as station managers to give to their smoking customers In addition, through a local janitorial supply company, they have had their name and logo printed on urinal screens for men’s restrooms. Interestingly enough hundreds have found their way to Vineyard Community Church in-of all places-men’s restrooms.
One of their most successful outreach programs has been their Christmas gift wrap. This year they wrapped over 20,000 gifts at a local mall. (Christmas 1995 was their seventh year.) The mall sees the program as such a value that they provide the space, signs, and wrapping paper. In turn, the outreach ministry provides some 400 volunteers from the Friday before Thanksgiving until Christmas Eve to wrap gifts in three-hour shifts. At the booth their standard ministry card also is available for the taking.
They must be doing something right because approximately one-half of the congregation has participated in at least one outreach. They also have monthly and seasonal events. Monthly events include supplying and preparing food for a local soup kitchen, nursing home dinners and sing-a-longs, and four departmental outreaches a year where ministry departments conduct their own outreach. Twice a month they take their “store on wheels” (a Vineyard van decked-out with purple neon lights) to homeless shelters and supply underwear, socks, toiletries, shoes, etc.
Finally, ten times a year they have what they call “Matthew Parties,” based on Matthew 22. These are huge, free block parties in lower income neighborhoods. The team supplies clowns, face painting, picnic
lunches, popcorn, music and groceries give-a-ways.
Perhaps most importantly, the outreach ministry is surrounded by prayer, before, during and after the outreach. Not only do they have an intercessory prayer group covering them, but the team finds clear
direction for prayer as they go about their outreach. For example, if they are washing someone’s car and there is a child’s car seat in the back, they pray for the child. And the list goes on and. on.
Now how about you? Are you interested in doing something similar? Pastor Mancini offers the following advice to those wishing to begin such a ministry. First, start out simple and do the best job possible.
Second, make the parameters clear to the team as far as the time involved. Third, always build fellowship into the outreach. For example, sometimes the go to a local fast-food restaurant afterward, sometimes he brings in pizza-on the house, of course. And fourth, limit your outreach to two hours, any more feels like work.
Vineyard Community Church is following Christ’s example of servant-evangelism and setting an example for all of those who desire to have ministry with meaning.
Keys to a Successful Outreach Event
Pick a good location
Get minimal permission if event is not being held at your church
Check supplies, purchase what’s needed
Check condition of any equipment
Rally the troops
Go get ’em-enjoy the outreach
Download and fellowship-talk about what happened. Celebrate the success
Remember: Do a quality job, and always give people more than they expect!
THE ABOVE MATERIAL WAS PUBLISHED BY WORSHIP LEADER, JANUARY/FEBRUARY 1996, PAGES 18, 19, 20.
THIS MATERIAL IS COPYRIGHTED AND MAY BE USED FOR STUDY & RESEARCH PURPOSES ONLY.