Be Our Guest

by Dennis Gunnarson.

Whether someone is a Beauty or the Beast, they should feel welcome at church. That is why “Be Our Guest” is a core value of our congregation. We believe customer service is everything when it comes to attracting the community around us.

The welcome should start as soon as guests pull into your parking lot. They should have prime parking marked by clear signage. It would be good to have greeters even in the parking lot, along with greeters at the building entrance, people who can give guests a tour of areas they will need to know (for example, children’s ministries, information center, visitor reception area, restrooms, the main worship center) as well as ushers who can help them find a good seat.

During the service, it’s good to mention your guest center/visitor reception area where visitors can meet with key staff afterward, receive a gift, and get answers to their questions about the church and its ministries. At the guest center, greet them at the entrance, help them find a seat or a place to stand, and give them something to do while they wait. Table hosts can make a big difference in keeping guests comfortable as well as getting them coffee, tea, juice and finger food. The table host can also collect personal information, give them a gift, and provide them with information to take home.

Pictures that give guests a sense of who you are and your history are also helpful. We have our values and mission statement all over the walls of our entrance, which we get comments on all the time.

Having a coordinator who oversees the activities of the guest area will assure that visitors have a good experience. No matter what you do, make sure your team meets or exceeds what people have been led to expect. If not, they may leave feeling that they were not good enough for your church. My family and I have attended churches whose pastors invited the regular attendees to turn around and welcome guests-and no one responded to us. That’s a huge strike against a church.

Begin connecting guests with church representatives they might want to know over the long term. However, any guest who signals a desire to stay in the shadows should be granted that right. They can always visit the guest center when they feel ready.

A follow-up letter from the senior pastor should be sent by Tuesday. A follow-up call or visit from a pastor or reliable ministry leader should happen before the next Sunday.

Whatever you do, keep the right balance. You can smother a guest and scare them away, or you can create an expectation without living up to it. No matter what you do, be genuine and loving.

Dennis Gunnarson is associate pastor at Church for All Nations, Tacoma, Washington.

Navigating Change

by Rich Doebler.

“There goes my pew!”

Art Luoma, 75, watched as the younger men stacked our church pews inside the rental trucks. We had just concluded our Sunday morning service with a rather unusual liturgy – something I’d never seen in all my years of church life. All over the sanctuary, people had taken out three-eighths inch wrenches from their pockets and unfastened our pews from the floor. Now Art’s pew–and dozens more–were heading a thousand miles west to a Lutheran church in Wyoming, while we replaced the pews with movable chairs.

“I paid for that pew,” Art said, his voice turning nostalgic. “I feel like getting into the truck and going with it.” His chuckle assured me he was only kidding, but I knew Art was feeling the discomfort that often comes with change.

It’s a discomfort we’ve all felt-for a number of reasons. Here are three of them:

Change Makes Us Feel Insecure
We resist change because we enjoy the security of the familiar. We are more comfortable with things we know. Change, however, takes us into unknown areas and uncertain experiences: How do we know we’ll like the chairs once we get them? Pews seem more like church. Once they’re gone, there’s no going back.

Not knowing what may come makes us apprehensive. Familiar circumstances are much more predictable.

I still remember the congregational meeting when one person raised her hand to ask accusingly, “Is it true you’re going to paint all the woodwork in our sanctuary? You’re actually going to cover up all this beautiful stained wood with paint?”

Yes, it was true. We acknowledged her concern but also explained how decorating experts had recommended a brighter atmosphere. In other words, this wasn’t just the whim of somebody pushing their personal preference. “It will be different,” one of our leaders admitted, “but it will be better in the long run.”

In fact, since the room was made brighter, we’ve heard no complaints.

It was also true that we were planning a new church addition – one that would cover up half the exterior of the sanctuary. The organ was already gone. Small groups were in. The Sunday evening service was out. Eventually, more change would bring a McDonald’s-style “playland” to our church as part of fulfilling our vision to connect with families in the community.

We all had to make adjustments as we grappled with the new and unfamiliar.

We Sense a Loss of Control
Some years ago, the church I pastored was constructing a new building in a new location. Those changes presented a unique opportunity, in my view, to change the name of the church and launch a new image in the community. We went through a process showing the benefits of such a change, but it was a hard sell. In the end, the change we got was a compromise – a minor cosmetic shift, not the new image I had envisioned.

Even though I felt I was not in control, having failed to achieve the changes desired, others felt they had lost control because the change they didn’t want had been thrust upon them. A few months later, one board member spoke to me. “Preacher,” he said, “I think we’re going to have to change the name back again.”

We never got around to that. It would have been one more change than we could have handled. But the lesson was not lost on me – difficulty in accepting change often stems from a control issue.

When a change that I don’t choose impacts my life, I feel a loss of control. It’s easier for me to accept the changes I initiate myself, because I still maintain some sense of control. This, of course, cuts to the core of a spiritual question: as pastor, have I surrendered my will to God’s, or am I defending my personal interests?

We Don’t Process Change Adequately
Pastors and church leaders can often make changes more easily than many in the congregation can accept them. That’s partly because they’ve gone through the change process. They “own” the change, while others are more skeptical and suspicious of the motives behind the proposals.

Church leaders typically take the time to work through a matter and attempt to grasp its significance before deciding on a course of action. In the process, they come to understand why change is necessary – even beneficial. Leaders evaluate the pros and cons of various proposals. Then they lay plans to implement the change.

It’s not the same for many in our congregations. They often feel that changes happen to them, unlike the leaders who have some satisfaction in knowing that changes happen because of them. It’s the difference between active involvement and passive involvement.

We can, however, help passive become active when we provide means for the congregation to become part of the process that leads to change. If we take additional time to help people understand the necessity and the benefits, they may begin to gain personal ownership for the change. Though they might not be entirely comfortable with it, they will more likely endorse changes they have helped to shape.

Once again I find myself in a church that is contemplating changing its name. We’ve taken our time, though, because we know that such a major change can be an emotional issue. Logical reasons for changing the name of a church will not automatically supersede emotions or family loyalties. Rational explanations do not easily replace 75 years of tradition.

So we’ve been going slowly, carefully talking through the issues and taking time to remind ourselves of our primary purpose as a church. We’re gently making the case that our name is a bit antiquated. Though it’s acceptable to us on the inside, it doesn’t communicate effectively to those on the outside. If our name gets in the way of our purpose as a church, or if it creates misunderstanding in the minds of the unchurched in our community, we ask, isn’t it worthwhile to consider a change?

We’ve floated the name-change issue on numerous occasions, often inviting feedback and suggestions. We’ve told stories of community members who question what a “Tabernacle” is–a Mormon church? A Jewish gathering? Some kind of cult? We’ve discussed in group settings how other kinds of names can convey our congregational identity more clearly.

Some people, predictably, have dismissed the discussion as “marketing” the church – a worldly concept, they say. Others have joined in the conversation and have begun to see the value of presenting a fresh identity. Several have traveled, observed other churches, and returned with new name suggestions.

But the whole exercise is our attempt to walk through the process of change, helping people understand it so they can accept it.

Going with the Spirit’s Flow
“No one pours new wine into old wineskins,” Jesus said in Mark 2:22. “If he does, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, he pours new wine into new wineskins.”

The work of God’s Spirit, like the new wine, is growing and expanding. If we try to contain God’s work within the framework of our old systems or inflexible traditions, we limit what God wants to do. If we are rigid and inflexible, if we resist change, if we cannot stretch with the new thing that God desires to do in our lives and in our church, then we face a fate similar to the old wineskins-and the new wine itself is lost.

Like you, I like to view myself as a “change agent.” But the truth is, I can be a creature of habit like anyone else. Just ask my wife. She still remembers the time when, after several months of engagement, our wedding day drew near. The closer it came, the more I began to consider how my life was about to change. I wouldn’t be single anymore; I would have to give up time for my personal activities and interests; I would have to make new commitments and obligations; I’d be playing a new role. Yes, I was in love, and I wanted to be married, but I knew so much would be different after that day.

Sharon could read all this going on in my head. She finally confronted me during this time of serious reflection: “If you don’t change your attitude about our wedding, then I’m going to call the whole thing off.” That was enough to get me to deal with the changes. We have now been happily married for 31 years.

I wonder if God doesn’t at times view us in the same way – as reluctant participants to the commitment he’s calling us to make. He wants us to get with the program, to be totally committed to the changes he wants to accomplish. Jesus told a story in Matthew 21 about a son whose father told him to go work in the vineyard. “‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.” (v. 29). Sometimes it’s good for us to swallow our pride and reverse our previous declaration. Staying in sync with an active God is more important than saving face or preserving tradition.

Richard Doebler is senior pastor of Cloquet Gospel Tabernacle in Cloquet, Minnesota.

Steps to Owning a New Idea
Create a climate that underscores your congregation’s central purpose and goals. Here are some ways to do that.

1. Leadership retreats. These are not just for elders and deacons, but for all those involved in ministry roles. Get them talking to each other about why you exist as a church. This kind of dialogue can also occur in monthly training sessions for children’s workers or small-group leaders.

2. Purpose statement. Develop a clear and concise statement that describes who you are and why you’re here. Then continually work to increase the visibility of that statement-and not just in your literature. You might even restate it every Sunday as you welcome people to church. Or stencil it in large letters on a wall of the foyer. This statement then becomes a simple measure for evaluating the things you do-or the threshold for deciding not to do other things.

3. No assumptions. If you’re talking about changing the church name, for example, you must also talk about reasons why it should not be changed. As you navigate this process, you may decide the cost of changing the name is higher than the benefits. Pastors who seek to build consensus cannot assume the outcome of their efforts if they intend to give ownership of an idea to the congregation.

4. Self-awareness. Know who you are-how God has equipped and gifted your congregation. Also have a clear picture of your personal style. A change that is right for another church may not fit you. Collect a list of terms that describe who you are-words that describe your central beliefs and doctrine, your core values, your personality, and your stated purpose.

5. Biblical foundations. Try to identify which practices are rooted in clear biblical directives, and which are simply tradition. For example, there’s no Bible reason why hospital ministry visits should not be the exclusive domain of ordained pastors. Volunteer hospital visitation teams are great. It’s also important to teach members to value a visit from a fellow church member as much as a visit from the pastor.

6. Spiritual direction. Prayer groups and prayer meetings under the guidance of the Holy Spirit can create an atmosphere of acceptance for change. When God speaks to people’s hearts as he did to Isaiah, they will more readily embrace changes he is introducing: Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? (Isaiah 43:18-19)

Rich Doebler is senior pastor of Cloquet Gospel Tabernacle in Cloquet, Minnesota.

No More Wandering

by Russ Doebler.

Our church wandered a wilderness for 40 years. It was a wilderness of internal strife and disunity, with one painful pastoral transition after another. During our wanderings, pastors were voted out, shouted down at business meetings, accused of not managing their families well, suspected of deviant behavior, questioned about doctrinal error…the list goes on. Maybe some pastors needed correction, but it would appear that the most common scenario was a pastor inappropriately accused or viciously attacked. All our pastors during that 40-year period left under some sort of duress, and the church was divided on its opinion of the pastor each time.

When I arrived at Valley Christian Assembly in western Minnesota in 1999, the church was still reeling in the aftermath of the last pastoral exodus. Some felt the previous pastor needed to go; others felt he had been treated unfairly. I felt like a wishbone, caught in the middle of a board divided on whether the previous pastor should have left and whether I should be here. Half of the board members would have died for me. The other half wanted to kill me. And the division went beyond the board through the whole church, with disagreements and wounds dating back 30 years or more.

Now, after more than seven years, I can testify that we have a united church board, and there is an attitude of unity throughout the church. Of course, we are still working on things. We may not be bursting at the seams yet, but we are seeing miracles happen on a regular basis. The factors that contributed to our turnaround are too many to document here, but I’d like to share one thing we did that pertains to the Fellowship of Christian Assemblies (FCA).

We added a bylaws requirement to establish a board of “Outside Ministry Advisors.” Some might call them apostles, bishops or overseers. We chose a non-threatening description that wouldn’t alarm people who are leery about threats to local-church autonomy.

Our policy calls for at least two Outside Ministry Advisors, but to date we have just one, another FCA pastor from Minnesota. We intend to expand our board of “OMAs” to two or three down the road. I can tell you that our existing Outside Ministry Advisor helped guide us through the last stops on our wilderness journey. He developed a relationship with the people of our church. He visits us regularly, meeting with our board and preaching to our congregation. He doesn’t come to solve problems but to help us hone our vision and mission. He and his elders serve as a covering for us. His intercessors pray for us.

So now, if a crisis were to spring up, there wouldn’t be any questioning or wondering about whom to call. Our church is now a safer place. I’m less likely to be accused falsely, and I’m less likely to get away with abusive practices or incorrect doctrine, because there is another person of authority to answer to.

I know what I’m talking about doesn’t sound very FCA. But I believe it’s biblical. When I joined the FCA, I felt freed from the politics of denominationalism. I read my Bible with anti-denominational lenses, and all I saw was local-church structures. What I missed was outside influence-no, outside authority-that helped direct the affairs of a local church. For example,

1. Acts 8:14-25 – The Jerusalem church sent Peter and John to assist Philip in his revival meetings. It appears that the Jerusalem church invited themselves to do this ministry.

2. Acts 11:19-24 – Unnamed disciples traveled from Jerusalem to Antioch and started a church. When the Jerusalem church heard about it, they sent Barnabas up to Antioch to encourage the new disciples. Again, it appears that Jerusalem invited themselves.

3. Acts 14:21b-23 – Paul and Barnabas returned to churches they had started, strengthening and encouraging the disciples. Then they appointed elders in each church, rather than letting the local churches vote in their leadership.

4. Acts 15:1-35 – The church in Antioch asked Jerusalem for help with settling a doctrinal dispute. Jerusalem sent a letter that settled the matter.

5. Titus 1:5 – Paul instructed Titus that he should appoint elders in every town.

6. Paul’s epistles – These are words of instruction to churches he had started. He spoke with authority, even though he was “out of the picture” on a day-to-day basis. He also wrote a bold theological work to the church in Rome, though he had never ministered in Rome. And his letters to Timothy and Titus were words of instruction to men that had authority over other churches.

Many FCA churches face the same internal squabbles we faced and suffer subsequent leadership vacuums as we did. Is there anything we can do about it? The FCA can’t, because it’s made an irrevocable vow to not interfere with local-church autonomy, no matter how far a church may degenerate into dysfunction and treachery. After all, it’s our independence that keeps us together!

This commitment to independence has some wonderful benefits and is a very freeing thing. But there are liabilities to an independent spirit, creating serious weaknesses or deficiencies in the FCA. Related to these deficiencies, here are three things I’d like to address:

The idol of local-church autonomy
The inability of the FCA to help a church in times of crisis
The value of submitting to outside help, and the inconsistency of not doing so

The idol of local-church autonomy
We say we are “interdependent,” not “independent,” but I wonder if we’re just kidding ourselves in an attempt to justify our unwillingness to answer to anybody. We value local-church autonomy so much, I wonder if we have made an idol out of it. We enjoy our independence because we can avoid the evil politics of denominationalism and we are free to hear from God directly without having to get approval of an out-of-touch overseer.

But during times of crisis, with no official authority outside the local church, the FCA can’t help (or intervene by choice) when a church begins to devour itself. Because we are independent in times of blessing, we remain independent in times of crisis.

The inability of the FCA to help a church in times of crisis
My complaint with the FCA is not that there are no willing and capable people to help a troubled church. Our church, in retrospect, felt abandoned by the FCA during our wilderness wanderings. But it’s not the people or pastors of the FCA who abandoned us. We felt abandoned by the system. Or lack of a system.

So it’s left up to the freedom of our independent churches to choose whether they want help. In our case, our church couldn’t agree on whether we needed help or who that help should be. During the last debacle, another pastor was called in to mediate, without complete board agreement, and that infuriated those who didn’t want help. The attempt to mediate caused even more contention!

I love the FCA. I love the people of the FCA. But let’s face it: We’re primarily a bunch of good friends. When it comes to a church in crisis, the FCA is a powerless group of pals, unable to help a church unless so invited by the local church. Our insistence on local-church autonomy requires that the organization “stay out of it,” and so a church is forced to chew its leg off to get out of the trap, which is what sort of happened here. Unity came at a tremendous price: Several families left the church overnight.

It’s not that we don’t have apostolic leaders in the FCA; we just don’t have a way of officially recognizing and providing for that type of leadership. We do that on purpose, so the FCA cannot interfere with the Holy Spirit’s leading of a local church. But the downside of that freedom is another type of bondage: We can’t interfere when the devil is manipulating a local church!

The value of submitting to outside help, and the inconsistency of not doing so
As pastors, we expect our people to submit to us, but when it comes to us submitting to someone else (besides the “mutual submission to elders” to whom we preach every Sunday), we scream, “What about local-church autonomy?!” That’s a bit convenient, isn’t it?

Rather, I believe our people feel safer submitting to our leadership when we demonstrate submission ourselves. I think it’s healthy for pastors to submit themselves to an “overseer’s” direction, just like we pastors expect our people to submit to our counsel. It’s the “being under authority to have authority” concept. I know that Warren Heckman, as USA Fellowship Coordinator, is always willing to help. But he can’t possibly have this level of relational involvement with every church. We need numerous pastors providing this counsel.

So here are my recommendations to prevent or alleviate power struggles. These are things local churches can do to connect more intentionally with the FCA in order to protect and strengthen the leadership of our local churches. I recommend that your church do what we did. We entered into an official, publicly sealed covenant (like an installation service) with another pastor, appointing him as an Outside Ministry Advisor. We did this during a time of “peace,” not in a response to crisis. We are now in the process of moving toward the appointment of one or two more. We believe this will not only help us avoid future crises, but these recognized authorities will aid us through a crisis that might pop up.

You may say, “Why can’t it be informal-the way we’ve always done it?” Because making it formal, official, and public carries much more weight. No one can question the validity of an Outside Ministry Advisor’s role in our church without changing the bylaws.

As I have studied the history of our church, I discovered that E.C. Erickson once had something of an informal role of covering over our church. The influence of Duluth Gospel Tabernacle can be seen in our early efforts to incorporate in the 1940s. However, when E. C. retired and then passed away, that role was not passed on to anyone else. What’s interesting about this is that the end of his role of informal covering for our church coincides almost exactly with the turmoil that we began to experience. In fact, within 10 years of E. C.’s retirement, our church split.

The informal relationship is much too dependent on the personalities of the “overseers” and the churches, and there is no guarantee that the practice will continue.

Now, as far as the FCA is concerned, I’m not suggesting we vote in apostles, presbyters, overseers, or district superintendents and become the Assemblies of God. Instead, I recommend for every church what we’ve done here. Note that this covenant was initiated by the local church and we voluntarily submit to an OMA’s counsel. It was not an edict passed down from on high.

The FCA can’t mandate this, since we are a fellowship of independent, autonomous churches. But we can recommend and promote it and encourage other churches to autonomously enter into the apostolic reformation by formally engaging in relationships with other churches and pastors as we have done. FCA values are left intact, while we grow in our understanding of biblical ecclesiology and authority.

It doesn’t infringe on the autonomy of the local church when the local church decides to submit, right?

Russ Doebler is now senior pastor of Hope Community Church in Howard Lake, Minnesota.

Blending Faith with Facts

by Paul Hodgson.

Church finances can be both challenging and rewarding. In many ways they begin and end with the amount of faith that we include in the whole process of church financial management.

Financial facts are mostly historic in nature. They relate to what has already happened. We document them carefully. But facts mixed with faith can produce quite a different result when we look into the future. It is all too easy to produce a factual report of the past and assume that the future will produce the same or similar results.

The difference is not just blind faith, but faith that is centered in God’s plan or vision for the local church. This kind of faith affirms that He will provide for all things necessary to carry out His vision. The God kind of faith enables us to prioritize what is most important and keeps our minds open to possibilities that otherwise would be unthinkable.

To set forth a financial plan for the future, a budget is necessary. How then can a church budget be more than a projection of human estimates in some prioritized fashion? Where can faith-for-the-future be seen in such a ledger?

And what about living with the budget? What happens when the income goes down or up? Where is faith, and how do we deal with reality when faced with the unpredictable?

Prayer in the Age of PowerPoint
First we pray for wisdom from heaven. Then we listen for instructions or advice. Next, we remain alert by monitoring cash flows and exercising options that are presently available. Learning how to activate faith and make necessary adjustments with limited resources actually builds more faith by creating a legacy of faith. After doing all we know to do, we stay the course by maintaining unity and financial integrity.

A growing part of any church’s budget these days, is more and more technology. Living with the high cost of computers, sound equipment, lighting, video cameras, and the like can be challenging for a finance director or treasurer. Everybody’s expectations are high. When something doesn’t work quite right, quick service is demanded, which raises the costs even more.

In our more harried moments, we may wish for the days a hundred years ago when many churches didn’t even have telephones or electric lighting. But somehow our forerunners found a way to include these in their church budgets. If they had faith for lighting, we can believe for newer technology, can’t we?

Another area that calls for us to blend faith with facts is managing the financial risks of a church. Lawsuits, uninsured losses and surprise demands on church resources can keep you on your knees. Whatever risk you face, nothing is as important as maintaining strong leadership unity and relationships.

Dollars Are Not the Goal
What makes for a winning and rewarding mission? It’s when the church and its leadership achieve the vision with available resources. Finances are only a vehicle to assist the church in realizing the ultimate goal. After all, the church exists to create healthy, active reproducing members of God’s kingdom. That is our main goal, not just amassing financial reserves to perpetuate the institution.

If we live by the faith of the Son of God (Galatians 2:20), He will build strong character in us. And ultimately, our churches’ success will exceed the facts that now seem so limiting.

Paul Hodgson is finance director of Church for All Nations, Tacoma, Washington, where he managed a $15 million building program.

Neutralizing the Fear Factor in Evangelism

by David Neufeld.

Of all the things a pastor can ask a church member to do, which is the scariest? Teach a Sunday school class? Sing a solo? Become the church treasurer?

The worst, according to many, would be this: Lead someone to Christ. “Well, Pastor, I’m not sure I could do that without messing up. I wouldn’t know what to say…”

In the small town where I serve, we’ve tackled that “fear factor” through a unique, no-risk approach. As a result, dozens of people in our congregation are willing, even eager, to guide enquirers to the Saviour.

This is happening, mind you, in a very tightly knit community of just 800 people on the Canadian prairies (with an additional 3,000 in the rural area around us) where everybody knows everybody’s business, and social conformity is strong. Stepping out to do something bold is not the habit here. We have five local Mennonite churches, one of which I grew up in. It’s easy to assume that evangelism is for somewhere else; after all, everyone in our town must be saved already. Just settle back in your church pew and sing the old gospel song “Hold the fort, for I am coming.”

Easy to Try
Several years ago, Campus Crusade for Christ announced a program called “Power to Change” for Manitoba. The province would be blitzed for several weeks with billboards, TV advertising, and TV specials–all carrying a phone number to call for spiritual help. This would require setting up a bank of phone counsellors in Winnipeg, just forty-five minutes from our town.

I promoted this opportunity with a passion in our church, encouraging everyone to take the training. Many people caught the vision. We went as a group for two nights of classes that taught how to share your faith over the phone in three minutes or less.

When the “Power to Change” publicity hit and the phones started to ring, our people found out how easy it was to guide a caller to salvation. The person on the other end of the line was already primed. Excitement began to rise as our people labored together to bring in the harvest. At the end of the evening, some people could hardly be torn away from the phones. The joy of leading someone to Christ was a real high.

In those days, the technology was not random; incoming calls always went to Phone 1 in the bank, unless that line was busy, then on to Phone 2, or Phone 3, and so forth down the line. One man around age 30 in our group, who ran a welding shop, soon figured out the system and would actually hustle to get the Phone 1 seat, so he could be busiest throughout the evening!

We were a little disappointed that no calls seemed to come from our rural area, the so-called Bible Belt of Canada, but we rejoiced in counselling dozens of callers from Winnipeg and other places across the province. As a pastor, I couldn’t help smiling as I watched everyday people from my church enthusiastically sharing the gospel over the phone.

The Graham Connection
While working at the “Power to Change” phone center, we met a lady who told us about another opportunity with an even larger reach: a Billy Graham call center in Winnipeg. This operation would field responses to TV specials that aired all across North America.

We agreed to come and check it out. When our busload of 45 people from out in the farm country rolled up to a large Winnipeg church for the first night of training, the organizers had to find a larger room! We soaked up the instruction for three hours that night and were intrigued with the 300-page manual each person received. It included everything a person would need to counsel someone on the phone, including an extensive index in the back that covered everything from doctrinal questions to personal crises.

We soon challenged the other churches in our community to come on board with us and be a part of this ministry. Then just over a year ago, the Billy Graham ministry decided to implement smaller centers outside the major cities. All you needed to qualify was the ability to manage a minimum of six phones, so we jumped at the opportunity.

We found a local business in Grunthal that already had five incoming phone lines. They offered to buy another one so we could use their facility in the evenings. In January 2005, our tiny town became just the third Graham call center to operate in Canada (alongside Winnipeg and Calgary). The Billy Graham organization runs week-long fleets of telecasts across North America some eight to ten times a year. That means we’re needed to take calls from viewers all over the continent. (The ministry pays the phone bill.)

Our people are so excited about this means of evangelism that they can hardly shut up. They are ready at any moment to lead their friends to Christ, because they already have the experience. I watch their faces absolutely glow at the end of the night when they have led someone to Christ. They are fully equipped and enthused to help anyone to the foot of the Cross.

One woman found herself on the line with a caller from somewhere in the States who was seriously contemplating suicide. The man did not want to go on living any longer. Our counsellor quickly flipped to the suicide-prevention pages in her manual and kept him on the line for half an hour. She not only talked him out of ending his life but even managed to lead him to the Lord. Talk about a thrill!

During the January 2006 run, we were open six nights and handled 183 calls. Of these, 44 prayed to receive Christ for the first time, 18 received prayer for assurance of salvation, 34 rededicated their life to Christ, and 87 had other needs that were prayed for. Workers have been taught never to end a call without praying for the person, so our people learned to pray out loud and in every situation.

Labourers for Today’s Harvest
A Franklin Graham Festival is scheduled for this fall in Winnipeg. This will push our people a step further, to do face-to-face counselling. I’m going to urge as many as I can to take the “Life and Witness” classes in preparation for the festival. There they will help at the public invitation and also do follow-up with friends they bring to the event.

We are praying with anticipation for a great harvest. I fervently believe that church growth should come from more than just the cradle! That’s the main source of growth in our rural area-but I want to see teenagers and young adults and older adults come to Christ as well.

Jesus said once to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field” (Matt. 9:37-38). I hope, with God’s help, to be able to say that at least in my community, the workers are many. I am convinced, as a pastor, that it is my responsibility to equip the labourers, and He will empower them by His Holy Spirit to help bring in an end-time harvest.

David Neufeld is pastor of Grunthal Abundant Life Fellowship in Grunthal, Manitoba.