Where Are All the Christians?
The theme for this year’s faith promise is “The Church Has Left the Building.” Not that you have to sell your property, pitch tents, and adopt the methods of the flying messengers of the early Church of God. Leaving the building means going to the people who need Christ rather than waiting for them to come to you. When Maiden Lane Church of God in Springfield, Ohio, decided to cancel regular Sunday morning worship services, they certainly weren’t playing hooky. They were simply worshiping outside of their four walls—they had left the building to worship through service.
Mark Martin, senior pastor at Maiden Lane, remembers the sultry August morning when a 105-year history of holding Sunday services on the grounds was halted. Referring to the community that surrounds Maiden Lane, he explains, “Normally, they just drive by and see cars in the parking lot on Sundays. There were no cars in the lot that day. Instead, they saw Christians face to face. They saw and felt the love of Christ. We were his presence in the community.”
Volunteer Kristin Hopkins reflects on Salt and Light Sunday, as it was dubbed, with the following question: “How often does a whole church get the chance to serve the community?” Over the years, Maiden Lane has coordinated a variety of service projects, but never a day of service that would suspend normal Sunday morning routines. Martin recalls that “on a practical level, we wanted to get the number of volunteers needed to achieve our goal. Sunday morning is the only time this can happen. Any other time, it would be less than half of the number we had.”
Citing Romans 12:1, Joy Sherman, connection pastor at Maiden Lane, explains, “We wanted to help the church to understand that work could still be an act of worship to the Lord. Jesus’ commission was to go into the world…for me it was critical that we begin to deconstruct some of the myths that the church has created around itself for the community. It was incredibly important for us to be physically present on a day that [Christians] are normally in a church.”
At first, the idea of canceling normal Sunday morning activities wasn’t enthusiastically accepted by all. But the church quickly got on board with the vision. After Salt and Light Sunday, “there was a resounding response from the people, How long do we have to wait to do this again?” Sherman says. “That’s an indicator of transformation within the congregation.” Five weeks after the event, the buzz in the community and congregation is still alive. It’s no wonder people are still talking about something that connected with community at just the right time.
Two weeks prior to the day of service, fear descended upon the community following a fatal shooting. God sent his instruments of peace into the surrounding neighborhood to pray with residents and offer yard work. Teams were formed to tackle a variety of tasks. They sought to prepare an elementary school for the fast approaching school year, make major repairs to the local Children’s Rescue Center, minister to the incarcerated, and beautify a hiking trail system. Seniors who were physically unable to do the heavy lifting opted for sending letters for ministry. All the while, a prayer team was interceding for every volunteer and every project. That day, salt and light permeated the darkness.
An excerpt from Navigator, the church’s newsletter, best describes the way the Holy Spirit was working among the teams on Salt and Light Sunday: “Just a few blocks away, the Children’s Rescue Center was in need of serious overhaul before kids piled in for the school year; seventy people worked to scrub walls and floors, paint, repair holes in the ceiling, rearrange workout equipment, sew curtains, hang cabinets and clean the common areas. That volunteerism created even more generosity: some people on the CRC team ran out to purchase new basketballs and kick-balls, another group took up a donation to buy a new industrial sink, one donor gave extra painting supplies, and yet another purchased faucets and hardware.” Beneficiaries of the service projects were overwhelmed and continue to this day to express gratitude through smiles and tears.
After a day of demonstrating the love of Christ, the teams came together with neighbors at a community park to proclaim the love of Christ through song and word.