Treating the Community to Living Water
By Carl Stagner
Church of God congregations across the country look for opportunities to share the love of Christ. The apostle Paul’s words, “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some” (1 Cor 9:22 NIV), challenge the church to meet the culture where they are. It may mean that the church has a Facebook or Twitter account, or it may mean that weekly sermons are available as podcasts. It may mean special ministry events for holidays that the culture celebrates, like Christmas, Easter, and Mother’s Day. Sources suggest that Americans spend more money on Halloween than any holiday except Christmas. And so, engaging the culture may mean holding a fall festival or trunk ’n’ treat on or about October 31. This year, a number of Church of God congregations did just that.
In Redford, Michigan, Lighthouse Community Church of God held a trunk ’n’ treat. Cars lined up in the parking lot with their trunks decorated and full of candy to give away to neighbors passing through. Besides candy, the church distributed hot dogs, doughnuts, hot chocolate, hot cider, and coffee. Trick-or-treaters are encouraged to vote for the best-decorated trunk, and they also receive brochures about the ministries at Lighthouse. Some trick-or-treaters have decided to call Lighthouse their home church. “We decided a few years ago to use Halloween as a chance to reach out to the community and share God’s love,” Dale Turner, body life pastor explains. “We have been doing this now for four years, and each year we get calls inquiring if we are doing it again.”
In Gordon, Nebraska, the Church of God offered a special program fittingly dubbed “Heroes Unmasked.” While some kids came in with masks and outfits representing one comic book hero or another, this Halloween outreach highlighted heroes of the Bible. June Dudek, Christian education director, explains that the church took photos of the children to be sent to the families after the event as a follow-up, along with an invitation to return.
In Chillicothe, Ohio, the Pumpkin Palooza at First Church was a big hit in the community. Not only did they pass out candy, but they also gave away free t-shirts. Christy Russell reports that the church secured permission to distribute information to the schools to spread the word about the event in advance. In addition to handing out church promotional material, the church also collected contact information for families to advertise their children’s program for future outreach opportunities.
In West Virginia, Jones Avenue Church, in Oak Hill, had to delay their festival due to the blizzard associated with Hurricane Sandy. Grant Campbell reports that in spite of the delay, seven hundred showed up, and God’s love was clearly communicated. At Teays Valley, Halloween activities were held in the rain, yet Pastor Melissa Pratt reports that five hundred children still came out for the event. She also shares a practical strategy for outreach follow-up: “At Trunk or Treat we invited participants to a costume ball for children and youth on the following Wednesday. As a result, we had fifty guest children at the costume ball! We are learning the benefit of having a follow-up event planned after every outreach so that we can invite those we touch in our outreach to an immediate event. In addition to giving out candy, we gave out several Bible verses to each child and local dentists donated toothbrushes and toothpaste for each child. We also gave out winter coats to any child who needed one. I believe our willingness to stand in the cold rain for three hours (plus set up) showed the community we were in it for them.” The church also holds the event at the nearby Kmart to increase visibility. “It gives us the opportunity to take a ‘go-to-them’ approach, rather than asking the community to come to us,” she adds.
Those who participated in fall festivals at Church of God congregations this year weren’t only treated with chocolate and sugar. In word and deed, they were also treated to the Living Water.