Burks UMC: Taking the fear out of the word "evangelism"

Burks UMC: Taking the fear out of the word "evangelism"

Many churches participate in community outreach after being led by the Holy Spirit. The work of Burks United Methodist Church, however, also comes from careful research.

As one of the first Holston Conference churches to participate in the Natural Church Development (NCD) program, the Chattanooga District congregation has pinpointed evangelism as a critical area of focus.

“I think it has really raised the awareness,” said the Rev. Rhonda Hobbs, associate pastor at Burks. “We were already doing outreach, but what NCD does is bring us an awareness of the level of outreach. It heightens our awareness that this is what the church is supposed to be.”

The suburban Hixson church became involved in the NCD program years ago, when the former senior minister, the Rev. Dwight Kilbourne, and Leon Fraley, the church’s director of discipleship, went to Florida for training.

As part of an effort designed to help make churches whole and more vibrant, church members participating in NCD take an extensive survey that points out a “minimum factor,” or potential area of Christian focus. Burks’ first survey highlighted "passionate spirituality" as a minimum factor.

In the second survey taken recently, evangelism was highlighted. As is often the case, the minimum factor will likely be different with each survey.

In trying to figure out how the church could grow in its evangelism, Burks decided not to focus on the traditional – and often uncomfortable – methods of knocking on doors and inviting strangers to church, or shouting the gospel from a crowded street corner.

Instead, church members became involved as volunteers in such non-profit work as the Ronald McDonald House, Habitat for Humanity, the Community Kitchen meal program for the homeless, and the local food pantry.

"We tried to take some of the fear away from the word 'evangelism,'” said Hobbs. “It is simply meeting people where they are, but doing it in the name of Christ.”

To help members prepare, the church also studied Rick Warren’s “40 Days of Community” program.
Hobbs added that each adult Sunday school class decided its own ministry, and some have taken part in more than one activity.

Leila Niemann, who worked with the committee that helped implement the second survey, was impressed at how the congregation began focusing more on evangelism.

"We had terrific responses,” she said. “All of the classes increased what they were doing. It has been very meaningful and we have made a lot of progress in terms of becoming aware of how we looked at evangelism.”

Niemann added that three different groups from the church are taking mission trips, and Burks is developing a Stephen Ministries program, in which lay members are trained and equipped to offer one-on-one ministerial support to other members.

Both Hobbs and Niemann added that their program has not been flawless. Asking the wrong questions on a survey can keep a participating church from benefiting as much, Hobbs said, and Niemann said Burks learned that questionnaires are not always the best way to get information.

"People don’t always turn them back in,” she said with a laugh.

Overall, however, they have been pleased with the benefits.

"NCD is very easy to implement and it has been a very positive experience,” said Hobbs.

Previous stories on NCD in Holston: