Making Connections at Faith Church
Embedded in the DNA of Faith Church are six words that have changed the trajectory of the congregation and community: reach the disconnected; grow the connected.
These words have shaped the vision and mission of the multisite RCA church, whose main campus is in Dyer, Indiana. This commitment influences what takes place in the worship center, classrooms, small groups, and special events. Two ministries in particular have taken up the charge to reach the disconnected—Overcomers, a ministry of encouragement for people with life-threatening illnesses (featured in the Spring 2017 issue of RCA Today), and Reflectors, a comprehensive ministry for people with disabilities.
“The leadership became convinced a few years back that there was a massive group of disconnected people and a lot of it is the church’s fault, whether intentional or not,” says Vinnie Adams, Faith’s special needs ministry director and worship leader. “Our mission is so profound, but so simple: we want to facilitate belonging and discipleship.”
Five years ago, Adams was teaching special education when he got a call from Faith to lead worship and to start a ministry for people with disabilities. He had done some worship leading there while in college and clearly remembers asking God, “Do you want me to go into ministry or special education?” He couldn’t imagine a place where he could do both, but that has changed.
Starting with two families, Adams began Reflectors, a ministry that has since grown to offer an accommodated worship service on several of Faith’s campuses and host regular events. Once a quarter, Reflectors welcomes more than 200 persons with disabilities from group homes and the congregation to themed evenings of music, dance, games, and food—all infused with the gospel. Last August, Faith hosted Joni Eareckson Tada, founder and CEO of Joni and Friends, an organization focused on advancing disability ministry. Eareckson Tada preached during the worship service and facilitated several small groups, both with Reflectors and with Overcomers.
On Faith’s Dyer campus, Reflectors also meets every other Wednesday for food, activities, and a time for parents to support one another. On most Sundays, Reflectors attend the first 20 minutes of worship and then exit to their own ministry, but twice a year, they lead the entire service: greeting, reading Scripture, praying, and leading worship as a choir.
“It’s a beautiful thing,” Adams says. “One of the most formative things we can do as we focus on belonging and discipleship is to experience their leadership. When they sing, pray, or read, it’s a different voice, and it’s amazing how that impacts our church.”
Volunteers “come out of the woodwork,” says Adams, as they observe persons with disabilities worshiping around them and sometimes leading services.
“We are moving from ignorance, through pity and care, to becoming friends and co-laborers,” says Adams. “Because we all belong to God, each life has inherent value and a capacity to reflect God’s image—we just need to figure out how each person is wired and gifted. My dream would be to see people so deep in relationship that they are already friends and need no prompting to become co-laborers with people with disabilities. Maybe it sounds weird, but I’d love to work myself out of a job.”
This vision of connecting people carries over into Faith’s Overcomers ministry. Like people with disabilities, those who have a critical illness may not be intentionally pushed to the margins. But in the midst of a health crisis, it can become harder to participate in the life of a church, leading to a sense of disconnect.
The Overcomers ministry, now about two years old, attracts several dozen people with life-altering illnesses and their caregivers to a twice-monthly gathering. Many come from other faith traditions and many have no faith family. Together with members of Faith they form a spiritual intensive care unit.
“Overcomers becomes like family,” says Andy Nearpass, care pastor at Faith. “If you open the door to this type of ministry, you will be amazed how many people there are with needs, how many families have members with disabilities and don’t feel welcomed. It touches a deep need.”
“I would encourage any church [to remember that] it’s not about the program,” says Adams. “It’s simply creating space for friendship and engagement to happen. That is way more transformative—for the person with disabilities and the one without—than trying to organize some big initiative.”