400 People and 10,000 Blessings
“What if we encouraged our congregation to not only be kind, and not only be kind in the name of Christ, but to tell about it—to share the story?”
This is how Philip Rose explained his congregation’s initiative in a video shown at General Synod 2015. Rose, along with the church he pastors, Bethany Reformed Church in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, committed to blanket their community with acts of kindness—10,000 of them, to be exact.
According to Rose, the task of members at Bethany is to “simply be kind to people in the name of Jesus, and report back—to encourage each other with what we’ve done.” While 10,000 individual acts of kindness seems like a lot, Rose says, it would be easily achieved if every one of their 400-member church reached out to someone once a week.
Church members report their acts of kindness through a form on Bethany’s website, and those acts are shared occasionally in church services. The church has received hundreds of these reports so far, but Rose says it has been more difficult for people to report their acts of kindness than it has been to bless others.
“The hurdle for a lot of people is they feel like they are drawing attention to themselves,” Rose says. “But if you are doing it in the name of Christ, you are pointing to him.” Another reason for the difficulty in reporting, he says, is that once people make a habit of kindness to others, it simply becomes a part of who they are. They don’t always think to write a report.
This initiative demonstrates just one way Bethany has grown. The church is also participating in an RCA learning community, Equipping Congregations for Local Missional Engagement. In his three and a half years pastoring Bethany, Rose has seen the church move from an “attractional ministry model of ministry,” with an emphasis on growing the church’s membership, to an incarnational philosophy, exploring “what can we become, and what can we give?”
“I think we’ve changed profoundly and remarkably,” he says.
The change in focus has uncovered the need for additional training for church members.
“We have good ideas and good vision, and willing people to do it, but we don’t want to leave them hanging,” Rose says. The church has hired an equipping pastor to provide the training and to help show the congregation “why we are here.”
In addition to extending individual blessings, members of Bethany are involving the community in new ways. They now host a monthly community meal, called New Day Meal. They put on a live nativity, designed not so much for themselves but for the surrounding community. And the church partners with a small but growing Hispanic congregation, Iglesia Cristiana Venid a Mi, which uses the sanctuary for worship services.
Rose looks forward to sharing Bethany’s efforts with other churches and being a source of inspiration.
“We feel good about the kind of conversation we are having right now,” he says. “All the conversations have changed from ‘what we do’ to ‘why are we doing the things we are doing, and does it matter?’”
[Photo courtesy Bethany Reformed Church]
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