Church mission planning takes time and patience, but God does surprising things in the process. For the past two years I attempted to organize projects for Change the World weekend in Helena, MT. The first year we attempted to paint a building for a local non-profit. The second year we did trash cleanup. This year we challenged Helena. Each year we saw an increase in participation from the first year when I showed up(just me), to last year when about 1.5 dozen showed up, and then this year when 15 Churches(maybe more by the time you read this) stepped up. Laying the groundwork sometimes means doing it yourself first and figuring out a way to invite others to help Change the World.
Usually in the month of April churches raise about 4,000 lbs of food in Helena. We donate heavily at Christmas and our gardens fill the pantry in the late summer and early fall, but spring and early summer see some of the lowest rates of giving to food banks. How do we break this pattern and supply our pantries with more this time of year? Challenge Churches!
Covenant and St. Paul’s UMCs this year teamed up to Change the World by challenging Helena area churches to raise 8,000 lbs of food. When we gathered to plan the first time we gathered in the same building I had attempted to paint 2 years prior as I did a solo change the world event. Now we were a team of 5 planning to invite whole churches to help us out. We planned each step of the way. First we needed to be in touch with our food bank(Helena Food Share) as they could help us coordinate. When we ask if the need was real and if Food Share would be interested in us helping out, they said, “Yes!” We worked with Food Share to learn about marketing the event in Helena and then the team went to work. We called every church that donated to Food Share last year, we made sure we got the word out to the press, and we even called all the businesses that have reader boards to see if they could help us out.
In the following weeks we created a website(challengehelena.com), put up our Facebook page, and set up a couple public service radio interviews. Then wouldn’t you know it we got a phone call, make that 2 phone calls from the local news stations, KXLH and KTVH. Both stations did news stories on us right around Easter. They were thrilled to cover a story about 2 churches challenging their fellow churches to raise food to feed people. As Marianne Niesen, St. Paul’s Senior Pastor, puts it, “Easter isn’t really news to the media. Christian Churches around the world have Easter services. Churches working together to make their community a more hospitable place to live, that is news they are interested in.”
After we got the word out, churches have been signing on consistently. Our list keeps growing 15 churches and counting trying to get 8,000lbs of food to our food bank in 1 month. Can we do it? We are giving it our best and trying to share a message of hope with our community. Not only that, but the national church helped out. If you sign up early enough each year you get a free banner to use, a t-shirt, and they even do a mailing for your community. We sent mail throughout our community inviting people to participate thanks to United Methodist Communications for helping us out.
I never thought this project would have such traction, but it did. It has traction because people care about their community and we are inviting them to make it better. Look for projects that help people know they are making a difference in the lives of others, big or small. Take your time, and if the first year doesn’t work out, say a prayer and see where you see the community being called to change the world.
Covenant and St. Paul’s are working hard to change their community and the world. What will you do for change the world weekend? It is coming up on May 17-18. Sign up by clicking here. Let’s show the world that Church is about finding Christ in each other and sharing God’s love with the world