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Prolific ministry tells inactives they’re wanted

HENDERSON, Ky. (BP)–When Lillie Powell agreed to be outreach director for her women’s Sunday school class in October 1996, she thought all she’d need to do was send a few cards and make some phone calls to class members. Instead, her cards and calls totaled 2,881 last year.
Powell did focus on class members for a few months, but “something just kept pressing on me that there’s more I needed to be doing,” she said.
So she talked with her pastor, Alan Witham, at Hyland Baptist Church, Henderson, Ky.
“I told him that the Lord was leaning on my heart to try to get inactive people back in church,” she said.
Witham was thrilled.
With worship attendance running about one-third of church membership, there were plenty of church dropouts who needed to be reached, he said.
Powell was thrilled, too. Because of severe arthritis and chronic heart problems, she often is unable to leave her home. And even though she lives with constant pain, she said she knew God still had something for her to do.
“I could sit up and be on the phone and pick up my pen and write something special” to church members who need to “get back in the family,” the 66-year-old woman said. “I could help them feel wanted.”
Within a few days, Powell’s ministry was under way. The church provided her a list of inactive members and postage. She called and followed up with postcards.
As word spread through the church, members started telling about specific needs of people who had dropped out of church or who were shut-in.
She began a list of those people and their specific needs.
It wasn’t long before Powell was averaging 80 to 90 cards and calls each week.
And it wasn’t long until inactive members began showing up at church.
One man whom Powell called and invited to the church’s 1997 Easter program not only came to that service, but a few weeks later rededicated his life to Christ and returned to active church life.
When Powell tried to reach one young man by phone, she reached his wife — who was not a church member — instead. The young mother said she and her husband could not come to church because their 3-year-old child was hospitalized with serious heart problems.
Shortly thereafter, when the baby was transferred to a Louisville hospital for surgery, pastor Witham went to visit the family.
Upon returning to Henderson, the family came to church. The father immediately rededicated his life to Christ; the mother joined the church at a later time. Today she teaches a Sunday school class, Powell said.
“It’s really made a difference in our church,” Witham said. “Lillie has a real concern for people and she has reached several inactive members who no one else has been able to.”
While several inactive members have returned to church, there are many more on her list who will need long-term care, Powell said.
For example, one man whom she has been writing for almost a year has made no overt response.
“I’ve almost run out of something to write him,” she said.
So recently she tried humor. “I don’t know who is the most stubborn — you or me. I keep writing and you keep ignoring. Why don’t you concede and make my day and come to church?” she wrote.
“His wife told me he read the card and smiled,” Powell said.
With each card goes a prayer, she said. “I ask the Lord to make the recipient … responsive to what I’m asking,” she said. “When they get that card, I want them to feel as good about getting it as I do about sending it. I want them to know they are wanted.”

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  • Joyce Sweeney Martin