Creativity and Innovation in a Small Church

Bishop Thomas A. Clark IV discusses how World Deliverance Christian Center in Bellwood, Illinois, shifted their culture to reach people online.

Bishop Thomas A. Clark IV is the pastor of World Deliverance Christian Center in Bellwood, Illinois. Prior to the pandemic, approximately 75 to 90 people attended weekly worship services. Clark and his team had been investigating how to engage people digitally, so they were a bit ahead of the curve once the COVID-19 crisis hit and they had to shift all services online. They were able to secure software quickly and shift their mode of doing ministry online. A year later they consistently have had 200 people attending their online worship services.

SHIFTING CHURCH CULTURE

World Deliverance Christian Center finds that most of their guests join for upwards of 30 to 40 minutes. The large number of new people are coming through referrals. Originally it was people from the church inviting new people. Now guests are also inviting people and greeting them when they arrive. Efforts to craft a culture where people are willing to invite others are bearing fruit.

Clark spent time studying missional church movements and combined what he was learning with new tools. As he taught how to use a FRANC (Friends, Relatives, Acquaintances, Neighbors and Colleagues) list, things really began to change. Clark also taught the BLESS method of evangelism, which encourages people to 1) Be praying, 2) Listen with care, 3) Eat with others, 4) Serve one another or the community together and 5) Share their faith story about Jesus. Through these tools, the lightbulb went off and people found it easier and more natural to reach out to others. Clark explains that BLESS aligns with the church’s mission statement, which includes the phrase “We give ourselves away.”

As a way to shift the church culture toward outreach, Clark implemented a new practice where every leadership meeting and small group gathering started the same way. Each begins with Scripture, prayer, the church’s vision, the church’s mission and each person takes two minutes to check in. They share their outreach temperature from last month and what it is now, what they have done to engage people on their FRANC list and what the next step is on the process.

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“We keep this in front of everyone so they always understand their purpose for gathering,” says Clark. “What is so beautiful is they are talking about people who are trusting them now. They are doing life with them. When they are going through something like sickness, death in families, the loss of a job—they now trust enough to share this with them. It allows us to live into that mission.”

MORE STAFF AND GREATER CREATIVITY

“For many years, it was just me and my wife. Now we have four on staff and one more joining,” says Clark. “So many great ideas about how we could engage the community during COVID-19 have come out of our time together. Before our ideas involved coming to our building, but we couldn’t do outreach in a building during the pandemic. I explained to the team that we have freedom within this framework: How do we reach people who are unchurched? They came up with the ideas and then they invite people on their FRANC list to come.”

Clark explains that in the first 12 months of the pandemic they had four church outreach events. One event was called “Jazz in the Park.” Another was “Dancing & S’mores in the Park” to include children. They also hosted a 5K Unity Walk to fund breast cancer and SIDs. All of the proceeds raised went to those groups.

“We partnered with other groups and companies,” says Clark. “We had vendors providing free flu shots. SIDS gave away a pack and play and helped people understand how to protect babies. We provided vouchers for free mammograms for women.”

The church also has embarked on a new outreach endeavor: starting a local school art program and helping them with a fundraiser related to it. During distance learning, they could host art projects on the church’s website, auction them off and the school would get the money. Clark says that through these efforts, the community was now seeing a different aspect of the church.

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“It’s about walking together in life. It allows the people in the church, in a non-intrusive way, to share Christ,” he says, adding the door was opened to offer a five-minute devotion and prayer every Friday through Zoom for any teacher who wanted to participate.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Clark says, “Within the community we want to create this idea: We don’t want to be a church that is detached from the community but a church that is part of the community. We want them to look to us not just when bad things are happening but also when good things are happening. We’ve had to unlearn to re-learn. For our seasoned salt saints, our older saints 60 years and up, for some of them it’s been a major paradigm shift. Our older saints kept asking when we could get back to the building. But I was telling them, ‘We don’t know when we can go back safely, and you are vulnerable with COVID. You now have a perfect opportunity to be missional and reach the people in your life who you care about like your grandchildren, children, other relatives and neighbors.’

“The pandemic has been a blessing in a way because it forced us to live missionally, and together we can see true community transformation. Now everyone can do mission. They get to live it where they are. I’m excited about what God is going to do next.”

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