California churches asked to skip services to serve

VISTA, Calif. — Pastors throughout Southern California are being asked to shut their doors for Sunday services April 27, and are instead being asked to take their worship out into the streets.

That's the plan behind Faith in Action, a new community outreach project spearheaded by Outreach Inc., a Vista-based marketing firm that specializes in church ministry.

"This is the first time they've come up with a project idea like this," said Anne Subia, the newly hired Faith in Action director. "This is a new approach to develop a project and provide all the resources."

The concept for the project is simple. Participating churches will cancel their Sunday morning worship services to allow their members to volunteer time in the community. Last year several Southern California churches did similar projects, but this is the first intentionally organized outreach event.

The project was formally rolled out in San Diego, where Outreach maintains its home base. While the initial focus has been in San Diego, Outreach is entering the next phase by introducing the program nationally. So far about 150 churches in Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino and Riverside counties have asked for event resources or committed to participate. She added the interest has come from churches of all sizes, denominations, inner-city, suburban, with several cultural and language groups also represented. To help pastors, staff and volunteers prepare for the outreach event, Faith in Action is offering to hold training sessions.

Subia admits that it can be a daunting task to ask pastors to give up a valuable Sunday worship service, but she said the response has been mostly positive. A professor at a local Christian college raved about the idea, Subia said.

"This is the greatest form of worship and this is an appropriate thing to do," the professor told her.

Although the prototype is to use Sunday as the workday, Subia stressed that it's just a general outreach template and that churches can select any day or venue to complete the volunteer tasks. For instance, larger churches with morning and evening services could opt to keep their services going, but encourage their people to volunteer the opposite time of their worship service.


Changing the approach
In fact, several churches have already completed their service project, including Cloudbreak Church in San Diego, which recently planted 40 trees and bushes at Stone Ranch Elementary School, where the church holds its weekly worship services.

Subia said Outreach developed the project in response to changing data about how people are drawn to church.

"There is a growing trend that inviting people to your church is no longer working like it used to," she said. "You need to go out into the community and be the arms and legs of Christ."

To help churches with their projects, Outreach has created a Faith in Action kit that contains four sermons, small group studies, resource DVDs, daily devotionals, promotional video and a T-shirt.

"We're hoping this is not just a one-shot thing, that churches will spend a month getting their people ready," she said.

The kits retail for $49.95 and include a 50 percent off coupon for an Outreach product.

"We have the tools to make it easier for someone who is doing this for the first time," Subia said.


Varied resources
Additional resources include banners, door hangers, bulletin shells and backdrops. Subia stressed that the promotional materials are optional and that churches can participate without purchasing any of the Outreach materials. The Web site also offers some free ideas.

Possible ideas listed on their Web site include offering bike repairs, donating toys to an urban youth program, organizing a car clinic, taking disadvantaged kids to a Padres game, creating a neighborhood garden, conducting an extreme home makeover, writing letters to soldiers, making backpacks for the military through Rescue Task Force or cleaning up a public park.

Churches can further develop their outreach into the community, Subia suggested, by inviting non-church members to participate in the project so that it will "not only build bridges with the churched and build community, but it will also get the unchurched to do something."

For more information, call 1-800-991-6011, ext. 3260, send an e-mail to faithinaction@outreach.com or visit www.outreach.com.