Funerals? Disasters? Use whatever gifts you have to grow your church

Your church and your vision don’t have to be big for your actions to have a big impact on the people around you. | by Alton Garrison

One of our Acts 2 Journey facilitators tells the story of brainstorming with a room full of pastors and their dream teams about the strengths of their churches. He noticed that one small church wasn’t fully participating in the discussion. Eventually, he had heard from every church except this one. The pastor was in his early sixties, and everyone in the leadership group was in that age bracket or beyond. Finally, he addressed them directly: “What about you guys? What are you good at?”

They were silent for a little while, and the facilitator began to feel bad for singling them out, but after a short delay, the pastor’s wife blurted out, “Funerals!”

Everyone in the room laughed good-naturedly, and the facilitator asked what she meant.

“Well,” she said, “when we have a funeral, our ladies do an incredible funeral dinner. The food they prepare for the family is amazing! And though a lot of our men don’t have suits, they come dressed in the best clothes they have and do a great job of being gracious and caring for the family as they grieve.” She looked over at her husband, perhaps deciding whether or not to go on, and said, “My husband is a good preacher on Sunday, but he’s an amazing preacher at funerals!”

Her husband slumped down in his chair a little bit, embarrassed that funerals were his best strength, but he nodded his head like he knew it was true. Before the facilitator could say anything more, the pastor’s wife said, “I know what we can do! We can call the local funeral home and tell them that anytime a grieving family doesn’t have a church to help with the funeral, we can do it! That can be our outreach! Our ladies can cook the meal, our guys can usher, and my husband can preach an amazing service and minister to those hurting people.”

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It turns out the local funeral home did perhaps a dozen such funerals a year, and this church was able to help families in this way about once a month. They walked out of the room excited to have a strategy that used their strengths to go outside the walls of their church and gave them a vital outward focus.

FOOD SERVICE

Maybe your church’s strength isn’t funerals, but you do have a strength. Don’t let size intimidate you. You can have a high-impact church even in a small community because the principles God built the church upon are not about size. I love hearing stories about how individuals and churches are making impacts on their communities and seeing people saved, because go isn’t limited to big churches with big budgets.

Dave Campbell pastors a small church in Timbo, Arkansas, a town that has fewer than 100 inhabitants. The last time I visited the church, 117 people were present for a service, but what I love about them has nothing to do with numbers. While their church routinely gives sacrificially to missions, they have a passion for relational evangelism and outward focus that I find truly inspiring.

A tornado once ripped through their tiny town and knocked out the power there and in the adjacent, larger town of Mountain View. The storm devastated these communities, leaving many people homeless and struggling to clean up the debris, to get the power running, or even to cook a meal.

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Just four days after the tornado, Dave and a few of the men from his church headed over to Mountain View to see what they could do to help. They arrived just as a disaster relief team was packing up their station in a local grocery store’s parking lot. When Dave asked why they were leaving when the needs were just coming in, the relief worker told him, “We’re just disaster relief. We can stay four days, and then we’re gone.”

Dave and his men looked at the needs of that community and decided they would do what they could to help. They pulled an old smoker over to the parking lot, and he and his guys started cooking food. Someone gave them a grill, and the grocery store gave them produce they couldn’t sell anymore because they couldn’t keep it refrigerated. Dave and his men fed so many people they were cooking long after midnight. If someone arrived and was hungry, they got up and cooked food—any time, day or night.

Dave put out a cot and slept in that parking lot for six days and nights, serving roughly 1,500 meals a day and being available twenty-four hours a day. He told me that some days they didn’t know where the food would come from, but as they ran out, people would bring more food from their powerless freezers. They cooked everything from salmon to hot dogs; whatever people brought, they cooked.

As Dave and his team served the people of Mountain View, others began to volunteer, and the food ministry created amazing relationships between the people of these communities, Dave, and the church. It gave them unparalleled access to people who would normally never set foot inside a church, including the meth makers who came out of the wooded hills for help.

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God got a hold of one of these men who had run a methamphetamine lab up in the hills. He got saved and exchanged running a meth lab for running a prison ministry, reaching out to the people who used to buy drugs from him.

Dave watched God not only show His goodness and love to the people of those rural towns as he and his men fed them and helped them in practical ways—Dave’s church also saw the impact of all those touched lives.

A pastor friend of Dave’s, Bob Caldwell, shared with me what God was doing in his community as well. Eleven years before we spoke, God had impressed a Scripture on him: Matthew chapter 25 is where Jesus says that when He was hungry and thirsty and naked, some fed and clothed Him while others did not.

At the time, Bob’s church had only a few families in it, but he challenged them each to give a dollar a day for a month so they could start a food bank ministry. He had thirty people each give a dollar a day, starting their food bank with $900. Because it was such a tight-knit community, a local Baptist church gave them another $600, and with these funds, they began feeding people. Over the years, they experienced problems because they had to learn how to run a food ministry, but it survived. Three years after they started, Diane Sawyer brought a film crew from ABC News to do a story on how they were feeding 2,000 a month—in a town of 400 people.

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Bob now has thirty other outlets like the one that began in his church, and they feed 8,000 people a month who would otherwise go hungry. Because of their work in the community and the trust and relationship it has fostered, his church plans to start multiple services.

Bob’s son, Josh, was preaching in a surrounding town when a young man named Bubba walked up to him and said, “I’ve only met one other Caldwell in my life. When I was nine-years-old, he walked up to our porch to see my daddy and gave him a box of food. Do you know that guy?”

“That was my dad,” Josh replied.

Bubba then shared the story about how Pastor Caldwell first met his family. One day, a man showed up at their door—a preacher, inviting them to church. “My name is Brother Caldwell,” he introduced himself, “and I would love to invite you to visit our church next Sunday.”

Bubba said his father, James, wasn’t receptive to the invitation. He said, “Don’t bother us! I know you’re just trying to do your job by inviting us to church, but I’m not interested. Me and the ‘Man Upstairs’ don’t have a good relationship. I’m not interested. Don’t bother me anymore.”

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As the pastor was leaving, he noticed they were all eating popcorn. He said to James, “It’s a little early to be eating a snack, isn’t it?” My dad replied, “It’s not a snack. This is what I’ve been feeding my family for the last three weeks.” Brother Caldwell left and told his wife about the incident. They were so moved by the needs of this family that they took their grocery money and bought a box of food to take back to the family. When they knocked on the door, James came to the door and said, “I told you not to bother me anymore.” Pastor Caldwell said, “I saw that you didn’t have much to eat. My wife and I decided that if my kids had something to eat, we wanted your kids to have something, as well. If you’ll accept this box of food, you may have it.” At that moment, my daddy started crying and said, “What time does church start tomorrow morning?” They attended for the next two Sundays, and on the second Sunday, the entire family came to the altar and got saved.

I love this story because we can easily get preoccupied with visions of well-developed ministries, but hearing how a food ministry like Bob Caldwell’s got started should remind us of the smaller things we can do to show Christ’s love to a needy world. The nature of the call on Bob’s life didn’t change—he’s still feeding people—but it began with small, humble
actions like this one.

Your church and your vision don’t have to be big for your actions to have a big impact on the people around you.

We can’t just wait for people to come into our churches to meet Jesus; we must go out and show Him to them.

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