Month: May 2010

Outreach in the Crises of Life

Outreach in the Crises of Life is the title of the workshop I’ll be hosting at the National Outreach Convention in San Diego, November 3-5, 2010.  This will be my 4th year speaking at NOC, and I’m looking forward to addressing this topic of reaching out to others during a life crisis.

I’m convinced that caring outreach is the most neglected opportunity for outreach for any church, large or small.  But small churches particularly can reach out to those who are hurting with caring and redemptive ministry.   And, one of the benefits is that this type of ministry is low-cost, relational, needed, and highly effective.

Life crises include sickness, death and grief, loss, trauma, divorce, crime, moving, job loss, loss of mobility or independence, and a host of other life incidents.  I’ll be talking about when we can offer care to those outside our church, and presenting examples of churches that are involved in caring outreach during a life crisis.  I hope you’ll be able to join us in November.

I know it seems early to be thinking about November, but that’s only 5 months away.  Plan now to join us.  If you’ve never been to NOC, you’ve got to experience it to believe the breadth of resources, and the variety of presenters that equip church leaders to effectively reach out to their communities.  See you there!

Sermon: Answering the Wrong Question

The lame man answered the wrong question when Jesus asked him, “Do you want to be well?” Sometimes we do the same thing.

Answering the Wrong Question
John 5:1-9

1Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for a feast of the Jews. 2Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. 3Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed.

5One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. 6When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?”

7″Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.”

8Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” 9At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.
The day on which this took place was a Sabbath….

The Setting of Today’s Story

Jesus had traveled to Jerusalem for a feast day, possibly the Passover, but we’re not sure.  In any event, it was an occasion on which Jews gathered in Jerusalem, and so Jesus goes there, too.

John then shifts his focus, like a movie director giving us a preview of what is about to happen.  John tells us that in Jerusalem, and actually very close to the Temple, is a place called the Sheep Gate.  The Sheep Gate is probably where sheep for Temple sacrifice were brought in — kind of a one-way trip for most of them, I’m certain.

Continue reading “Sermon: Answering the Wrong Question”

Authenticity is One of the Strengths of Small Churches

The Strengths of Small Churches webinar went really well today, and BuildingChurchLeaders.com has posted our presenter notes from the first topic we covered — authenticity.  The notes actually contain some material we didn’t get time to cover, so whether you logged in to the seminar or not, you might find them useful.

Tim Avery and his crew will post the other two topics — lean/nimble and equipping — in the coming days.  Go to Off the Agenda blog, look over the notes, and give us some feedback.  Thanks.

Free Small Church Webinar Thurs, May 6, 11 AM

Only one more day until “The Strengths of a Small Church” webinar on May 6, 11 am to 12 noon EDT.  You can join the almost 500 other participants by registering here.

The free video webinar hosted by Christianity Today’s BuildingChurchLeaders.com features Brandon O’Brien, author of The Strategically Small Church. Brandon’s book is filled with great examples of small churches who have leveraged their size strategically in effective ministry.  Participants will be able to submit questions, and view resources we’ll be discussing, all on the webinar screen.  This isn’t just one of those “listen-to-us-talk” deals, but a full video webinar that I know you’ll enjoy.

I’m Brandon’s sidekick for this gig, and I hope you can join us for the webinar on Thursday, May 6, at 11 am to 12 noon EDT.  (For those of you on the west coast, that’s 8 am, but we’re serving free coffee so that should help!)

Seriously, don’t miss this.  Registration is already record-setting, but the good news is we can take everybody.  The miracle of the internet.  See you tomorrow.

Small Detroit Church Overcomes Big Obstacles

The graffiti message scrawled on the building next door to the church screamed, Satan Is Alive! But that did not deter Randy Brown from becoming the pastor of Military Avenue Evangelical Presbyterian Church in 1989.

Located in inner city Detroit, Military Ave. EPC had enjoyed a distinguished history for a small congregation.  Records show the church in its heyday, gave almost 50% of its income to missions.  The congregation was so well-respected that the renowned Dr. Donald Grey Barnhouse spoke there once.

But by 1989, a declining Detroit had swallowed up the former proud working-class neighborhood.  Instead of houses filled with working families, the community around the church teemed with the homeless, drug addicts, and prostitutes.  Military Avenue EPC was destined to disappear unless something drastic happened.

Nineteen years later, Military Avenue EPC is alive and doing good in its community.  In the past ten years the congregation has built two new buildings including a full-size basketball gym.  Drug addicts have found Christ and become active church members, neighborhood kids swarm into the church for one-on-one tutoring, and struggling families find support each week.  This small church ministers to the urban poor each week by:

  • Meeting real needs.  Each week dozens of families line up at the church to receive a bag of groceries after attending a brief worship service.  Randy said, “Our goal is to show compassion, but we also want to share the gospel, the real bread of life.”  With hard economic times, the food program has grown from 20 families to over 150 each week.
  • Connecting with kids. Each evening dozens of school children come to the church’s gym for tutoring.  Church and community volunteers sit with each child, helping them grasp math and science, but also teaching them valuable life lessons. Several students in the program have become the first in their families to go on to college.
  • Welcoming volunteers. The church welcomes over 300 volunteers a year to  help with its ministry to Detroit’s poor.  Staffed by volunteers, Vacation Bible School reaches dozens of kids each summer.  Volunteer groups have come from all over the country to Detroit’s inner city to work.
  • Seeking broad support. Military Avenue EPC functions like a mission, according to Dr. Brown.  Church members alone could not bear the financial cost of building a gym, or maintaining the church’s food and tutoring programs.  Their presbytery provides some financial support, and interested individuals have given generously for building programs.
  • Focusing on their community. “Our target group is the urban poor,” Brown commented.  The church is committed to staying and serving in its community for as long as it can.  “This is a small church with a big ministry,” he added.

About 100 gather for Sunday worship, but the church touches over 1,000 different people each year.  About 300 kids participate in their after-school programs, including a basketball program that reaches out to street-wise young men in the inner city.  The Satan Is Alive graffiti is gone, too.  A couple of years ago the church bought that building, and turned it into The Solid Rock Cafe for teens.  “In the inner city,” Randy noted, “success means we’re still here.  Ask people to pray for us.  We’re in a battle.”

*This article appeared first in Outreach magazine’s Nov/Dec 2008 issue in my column, ‘Small Church, Big Idea’,  under the title, ‘Making Some Moves in Motown.’