Flavors of Evangelism: Ohio Church Finds Outreach Niche in Food
By Brian Ramsey
And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all people.” —Acts 2:46–47 ESV
This classic passage in Acts is descriptive, not prescriptive, which means it tells us about something that happened—giving us insight that God want us to have and apply in our situation (but not to copy). Nestled in the greater context of this biblical record of the great witness in Jerusalem is this nugget that reveals the Christian community sharing life in common. Sure, the believers were together sharing food, with gladness and simplicity, but the prescriptive part is that their joy was common, since they all focused singularly upon Christ. It is a reminder to us all, churches large and small, that we can creatively make a difference by using common resources—and exude Jesus!
First Church of God in St. Paris, Ohio, is living proof. And according to Pastor Mike Miller, the director of missions and outreach, the congregation has had a long history of combining food and ministry. Mike grew up in the church, and he explains that they have been making an impact on the community by way of food service since the mid-1990s.
Early on, the church focused on a community Thanksgiving dinner, usually held in the cafeteria of one of the local schools. “One of the real blessings is that other churches and people in the community have been a part of these efforts both financially and in service,” remembers Miller.
Then a men’s prayer breakfast morphed into a monthly community pancake breakfast held downtown, which provided an opportunity for the community to share a meal, build relationships, and hopefully see Christ in the believers’ actions and words. Every year, the church gets to host a breakfast on the first day that the teachers and the school staff report back to begin the year. It is thought to be a great way to get to know them and to express sincere gratitude for their tireless efforts.
One of the most interesting and impactful ministries was the brainchild of three couples in the church: Jack and Brenda Williamson, Lynn and Mona Miller, and Dick and Sara Keeran. They wanted to be a part of the local festival, so they brought in an old steam engine and sold corn. This led to the food trailer from which they sold cold subs. The food truck/trailer later appeared at the fairgrounds and sold items such as fried fish and chicken garnished with vegetables, like cauliflower and mushrooms.
Eventually the congregation knew that they needed to expand, so God led them to purchase seventeen acres away from their downtown location where the church had been established for over a hundred years. St. Paris Church built a pavilion, which, in time, received add-ons, such as a kitchen and two bathrooms. People became eager to spend more time there, so they scheduled worship services more often, and interest in the property increased.
Their pastor took another church in July 2020, and the congregation decided that the old building, the house next door, and the seventeen acres were too much, but they knew it could be some time before they would be able to sell the original building and the home.
But it only took two months! On Easter Sunday this year, the St. Paris Church of God held their first service in a renovated, newly improved pavilion facility, and they praise God for his sustaining grace and providential timing. Oh, and guess who are ensconced themselves across the street? The local middle school and elementary school. Each Friday, the church carries on its tradition of ministering to the school teachers and staff by fixing food in their food trailer whose side is a billboard announcing that they are “Hooked on Jesus.”
“I do not want anyone to be afraid of evangelism,” explains Pastor Mike, “for it is as simple sometimes as sitting down, talking casually and eating with someone—all the while representing Jesus.” Miller knows that the Great Commission is based upon the idea that Christians will decide to go. The instruction there is given to help us to know what to do once we get there. Pastor Mike tries to help the congregation to see that God is already active, present, and working. “We just get to be a part of that, so we need to find our personal purpose and mission and think about the gospel.”
The church’s focus has been refined to help each member to stay less self-absorbed and more focused upon the people outside the walls of the church. It is not so much about getting people inside the church, but it is all about getting Jesus into the community. Well done, St. Paris! Pass the ranch dressing!
For more information on the how-to of this food ministry, you may contact the church via phone at 937-663-4441, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by visiting their website at spfirstchurchofgod.org.
Dr. Brian Ramsey resides in Indianapolis, Indiana, with his wife of thirty-six years, Tammy, who has taught as a Kindergarten teacher at Liberty Christian School in Anderson for over twenty-five years. He has two married children and four grandchildren—all girls, and their wishes have absolutely no extra control over him. He currently works with his son who owns a magazine, and he writes for various entities. He is very involved in his church in the Soul Care Ministry, and he loves to read, watch and play sports, and teach college classes.
Learn more about the Church of God movement at www.JesusIsTheSubject.org.