Outreach is a goal of every church, but many efforts end up being pastor- or staff-led.
Last summer Kyle Hodges, lead pastor of First Baptist Church West Blocton, felt God leading him to do something different.
“Starting in the February/March time frame, I was seeking after God for leadership guidance to make sure we’re in step with Him,” Hodges recalled. “He challenged me [and] said, ‘I want you to have a summer of outreach. I want you to challenge your church to execute an outreach program.’”
God also laid out how He wanted it done and prompted Hodges to “raise up four leaders [to] lead this summer program.”
Praying for leaders
Hodges was hesitant at first.
West Blocton averages 70 in Sunday morning worship and is primarily made up of six multigenerational families. When they go on vacation, few are at church, Hodges said.
Not only was this his first summer at West Blocton, but he had also been told that during the summer the church was basically “on life support,” VBS was the only summer activity. Hodges was concerned that the new outreach effort would fall flat.
But he decided to trust God and go with the plan, praying until God gave him the four leaders’ names. He continued to pray as he went to each and asked if they were willing to join in.
They were hesitant at first but decided to commit to the challenge.
Hodges had spent most of his eight months as pastor preaching how a Christian’s identity is rooted in Christ and everything flows from that identity. He didn’t know it at the time, but it was setting up the challenge to be a success.
“I think the people were really spurred on by the idea that if our goal is to love as He has loved, to walk as He walked, you can’t do that sitting in a church,” Hodges said. “You must do that through external activity.
“Love is an action. Love is a choice — not an emotion, not a feeling. There must be evidence of it. Otherwise you can’t claim it exists.”
The foundation had been laid. The congregation had been learning that love is action. The leaders were chosen. Now it was time to let the church know.
The next couple of months, Hodges encouraged members to sign up for one of four teams, designated by color. He didn’t tell them what was going to happen or who the leaders would be until the first week of June.
Hodges had ideas for what the teams could do but wanted to empower each one to make their own choices for ministry. The goal was for each team to accomplish one outreach activity during the summer.
“The church received it well. They were excited about it,” Hodges remembered. “There was some momentum that got built. The leaders ran with it. They got excited and started going after it.
“God gave them some really cool ideas, and right off the bat we had a project that … all four teams joined in together on. I think that was the catalyst for the momentum for the rest of the summer because they had a good time and developed community.”
Variety of service
Hodges said the team leaders loved putting their own spin on what their teams would do, without him watching over their shoulder.
FBC ended up completing 16 outreach projects, including a prayer tent at their 4th of July festival, providing water at the local high school’s summer band camp, community-wide street cleanup, renovating the local library and yardwork for the elderly.
Recipients of the ministries were mostly non-members since the goal was to be the hands and feet of Christ, not gain new members. Instead, the teams encouraged those who already went to church to continue doing so.
Though summer is over the teams continue to look for opportunities to serve, Hodges noted. They have completed more service projects and plan to continue year-round, even through the holidays.
He said he can hardly believe how it is not only changing the community, but the members.
“Hands down, my … favorite part is the fact our church members show up to church, and nobody is happy just sitting in a pew on Sunday morning,” Hodges said. “They want to get out. They want to get involved. They want to do something. Now they have an avenue to do it.
“Personally [this] has taught me the value of empowering other people. It’s taught me the value of leadership through delegation, through extension. I don’t have to put everything on my shoulders.
“This church can do far more when people are empowered and given opportunity.”