HOUSTON (BP)–When several thousand people walked out of church in their stocking feet at Fellowship of the Woodlands near Houston, Texas, they made a simple but huge difference in their community.
“A big church makes a big impact,” Fellowship pastor Kerry Shook said. “We wanted to make a big impact on the homeless of Houston. We knew people had given them plenty of blankets, but what they needed were shoes. We decided to do something that would solve a big problem instantly.”
So he challenged the congregation — if people felt led and with no guilt attached — to take off their shoes and place them at the front of the sanctuary. The church collected 4,600 pair of shoes that day.
“People filled a need,” Shook said. “And when they walked out in their socks, they got to experience a little of what the homeless in our area deal with every day.”
Shook is one of four panelists slated to participate in the Missional Network Dinner and Panel Discussion set for June 9 during the 2008 Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Indianapolis.
Shook and other missional pastors will discuss the challenges and opportunities facing churches as they look for relevant ways to witness and minister in their communities.
“We’ve been a church of all different sizes,” Shook said. “We wanted to have a vision to help people experience Christ.”
Every church, regardless of size, can be Christ’s presence in its community, Shook said. It’s a matter of identifying the needs of a community and doing something that will mobilize an entire congregation into service and evangelism.
Fellowship of the Woodlands has done this through simple acts like raking leaves on a Saturday or, as they grew larger, collecting as much as 70,000 pounds of food for relief. They even purchased and staffed feeding units for disaster relief ministries.
“Acts of kindness, no matter how simple, make a difference,” said Shook, who sees every kindness as an open door to sharing the Gospel.
These “conspiracies of kindness” and the church’s vision to multiply and spread have spawned church plants elsewhere in Texas and in New York, as well as a satellite church 50 miles away in Atascocita, Texas, that already runs 1,700 in attendance.
The congregation has not always latched onto Shook’s vision.
“We had 15 people come to help start the church,” Shook recalled. “They got so excited only eight came back.”
But once the people catch on, they own it. Now besides organizing events for people to join and serve, members perform little acts of kindness in their own neck of the woods -– doing things that will speak of Christ’s love to neighbors and friends. The goal is mobilizing all 15,000 to perform at least one act of kindness.
In light of recent concern abut baptism numbers across the Southern Baptist Convention, Shook emphasized the importance of finding relevant ways to witness and minister in a community.
“On the whole, we’re becoming less relevant,” he said. “I see many who are becoming relevant and making inroads, but we’re not getting into the community like we should.
“The thing that’ll perpetuate us is being known for the love of Christ,” he added. “We want people to start coming to our church who don’t know Christ.”
Shook is slated to preach at this year’s SBC Pastor’s Conference in Indianapolis and will join the June 9 Missional Network panel alongside Brian Bloye, pastor of West Ridge Church in Hiram, Ga.; Daniel Floyd, pastor of Lifepoint Church in Spotsylvania, Va.; and Shawn Lovejoy, pastor of Mountain Lake Church in Cumming, Ga.
“Shook and these pastors continue to set the tone for thinking and living missionally,” said Mike Cogland, director of the Missional Network. “From a 15-member church to a 15,000-member church, Shook’s experience with starting and growing Fellowship, joined with the collective experience of Brian, Daniel and Shawn, will give us all a greater sense of truly struggling to reach a community for Christ.”
Adam Miller is associate editor of On Mission magazine. For more information on how you can join in the discussion, visit www.missionalnetwork.org or e-mail [email protected]