5. Reaching the World From North Carolina
During a missions trip in the 1980s, pastor Michael Fletcher of Manna Church in Fayetteville, North Carolina, had what effectively amounts to an awakening. “Sometimes when you’re in your own culture, you’re blind to the lostness of people,” he says. “When you go somewhere that’s not your own culture, you see things as they are. ... And I just said, ‘We’ve got to reach people, we’ve got to go.’”
Today he nudges the members of his 5,000-member church to engage people outside the church walls through dozens of outreach efforts Manna Church leads. “We have a global strategy—if there are unsaved people in your home, it goes from the head next to you on the pillow at night right around the globe,” Fletcher says.
That passion to reach the lost also influences Grace Churches International, a ministry network that has grown from 27 congregations when Fletcher took over in 2001 to more than 400 in 69 nations today. “When we talk about ministry partners, it isn’t just send money, it’s hands-on, be involved in what they’re doing,” he says.
The goal is to build the kingdom, not one congregation, Fletcher adds. “Selfishness has hijacked the church in the West,” he says. “That’s a fact. We think about ourselves, meet my needs. That’s not Christianity. Christianity is giving. It’s giving the gospel of Christ to [the world].”
6. Rescuing the Homeless in Atlanta
Like most other U.S. churches, Rescue Atlanta Church led by pastors Mel and Teresa Rolls has services twice a week, on Sundays and at midweek. But that’s where the similarities end.
Roughly 70 percent of Rescue Atlanta’s members are homeless and another 25 percent are from troubled inner-city neighborhoods. A hot breakfast is served before Sunday services and a warm lunch before midweek Bible study. In addition to a food pantry, the church has laundry and shower facilities, as well as a clothes closet and medical clinic.
“I really believe the success of what we’ve done in the 21 years we’ve been doing this is that we get into their lives to where we earn the right to speak into their lives,” says Mel Rolls, an Assemblies of God minister. “They see we’re their friends. We’re not trying to herd them into church. We want them to trust us, then trust the message, then they follow.”
Despite the unique makeup of Rescue Atlanta, the Rollses encourage church members to serve others. They support missionaries worldwide and members have been sponsoring children in Haiti since long before the January earthquake. After flooding wreaked havoc in Georgia last September, teams of homeless men from Rescue Atlanta helped families who had lost everything. “The congregation is amazing,” Rolls says. “They give. We receive an offering every time we have a service. No one feels like they have to give, but they do give.”
7. A Florida Church That Left the Building—Literally
In 2003, pastor Byron Bledsoe was leading a growing Southern Baptist church in Orlando, Florida, that was drawing 1,500 people each week. Its denomination had even recognized the ministry as a top evangelistic congregation.
But instead of being excited by the commendation, Bledsoe was troubled. He knew that only about 10 percent of the people the church reached each year had been previously unchurched. “If we didn’t exist anymore, nobody in the community would even care,” Bledsoe says.
That nagging discontent led him on a two-year journey that culminated in some radical moves. He phased out the choir for a worship band and transitioned the Sunday school into home-based cell groups. But the biggest change came in 2007, when the church sold its campus and started holding services in a movie theater, losing 1,400 of its 1,500 members in the process.
Now known as C3 Church, the ministry spends “every extra dime” on outreach projects such as feeding needy families and providing backpacks for students. Bledsoe says the strategy, though painful, has yielded some unexpected fruit. Most of the 600 people who attend services each week were previously unchurched. And the congregation has become ethnically diverse, just like the city.
Adrienne S. Gaines is the former news editor for Charisma magazine.
SEE THEM IN ACTION
See some of these innovative churches in action at trendsetters.charismamag.com. Also tell us about churches in your city that are finding creative ways to reach the lost.
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