July 1, 2015

Building, Exercising, and Drawing for Jesus

What do a home renovation team, a CrossFit class, and drawings on a napkin have in common?

Before you say, “Not much,” think again.

Seventh-day Adventist pastors attending the CALLED Convention in Austin, Texas, this week say the three can be used for innovative approaches to evangelism in the 21st century. From British Columbia to California to Michigan, these pastors are sharing Jesus in a brand-new package — and are already reaping the results of their bold approaches to ministry.

Here are their stories.

Building for Jesus

The Aldergrove Adventist Church, located in the Aldergrove-Langley area of British Columbia, decided in 1997 to become intentional about reaching out to the local community, said Mike Dauncey, the church’s associate pastor.

“Eventually we launched ‘Acts of Kindness,’ a lay- and volunteer-based ministry designed to serve the people who need it most,” he said.

As part of “Acts of Kindness,” the church established an “Extreme Home Repair Team” that every fall chooses one or two home renovation projects for people in need. Through a network of volunteers and seasoned contractors, the team provides roofing, electrical, and even landscaping solutions to the selected homeowners by the following spring.

Even though it was born out of an earnest desire to help “the least of these” with no strings attached, the ministry, which has been featured on Canadian national television, has an unintended but welcome byproduct, Dauncey said.

“The benefit for the church is clear: Out of the more than 200 volunteers working in our projects, 44 percent are members of the community,” he said. “Many of them are not even Christians and have never been involved with a church on a regular basis.”

After the team leaders invite the volunteers to church, however, many agree to attend.

“For some of them, it’s a brand-new experience,” Dauncey said. “Believe it or not, some have never stepped into a church.”

Dauncey makes clear that the home-improvement services are provided with no ulterior motives, and that unchurched volunteers are never pressured but just invited to attend the local church.

“It does not matter if it takes five years,” he said. “We always keep the relationship open.”

As a way of an example, he mentioned the case of one of the team’s electricians who took some time to accept the invitation but now has attended Sabbath School for 18 months.

“Volunteers and contractors are not the only one ministered to. People who benefit from our projects are, too,” he said.

Take Walt Grochowski, for instance. The 2011 recipient of the home-renovation project, he waited for a year before he began to attend the Aldergrove church. A couple of years later, in April 2014, he was baptized and became a Seventh-day Adventist.

“No doubt about it: One act of kindness can and will change the world,” Grochowski said in a videotaped testimony shown at the conference.

As the project, which costs over $10,000 a year, becomes well known in the region, businesses are getting on board and supporting them.

And what about the volunteers? “Well, they tell us, ‘This better not end,’” Dauncey said.

A woman recording one of the CALLED workshops. (James Bokovoy / NAD)

Working Out for Jesus

Pastor Jeff Tatarchuk, 29, was hired as an evangelism intern by the Southeastern California Conference a couple of years ago.

“As I was serving there, I realized how difficult it was for a young person to accept all of our beliefs and be baptized,” Tatarchuk said. “What is more, even when they were baptized, they would not stay for long. After a little while, they were gone.”

Tatarchuk began to think how to integrate those young people better, not only spiritually but also socially and even physically. In the meantime, he was sent to Andrews University to pursue his Master’s in Divinity degree.

At the Berrien Springs, Michigan-based institution, he met Juan Martínez, a fellow seminarian, who was into CrossFit, a health-and-fitness sport whose workouts incorporate elements from various physical-training disciplines. Tatarchuk said God helped open the doors for them to open the first CrossFit gym in the community in just two months.

“Most of our customers are between 25 and 40,” he said. “And while we have some students from campus, many are non-Seventh-day Adventists from the community.”

He said CrossFit is a community-based activity where the importance is placed on the group, not on the individual.

“In our group, no one is wearing headphones,” he said. “We sweat, we strive, we set and reach goals together. We help each other to thrive.”

Under the motto “Stronger, faster, better together,” their goal is to influence the community by creating bridges of trust and understanding in a way that fosters friendship and long-term, deeper commitments.

“We are a sort of a family,” Tatarchuk said. “We attend our customers’ weddings, are present for their graduations and, generally speaking, become part of their everyday lives.”

And on top of it, it is a profitable ministry.

“When you think of evangelism, you usually think of spending money,” he said. “But here, customers pay $100 a month for the services we offer.”

Drawing for Jesus

“Some years ago, I was asked to give Bible studies to postmoderns,” said pastor Ern Brake, assistant to the president for REACH in the British Columbia Conference. “My first reaction was, ‘Well, postmoderns don’t do Bible studies.’ But then I remembered that when preparing children for baptism, I had often used diagrams and drawings to help them understand biblical truths. Then I asked myself, ‘What if I applied the same method to teach postmoderns?’ And to my joy, I soon found out that it really worked!”

This was the beginning of what Brake calls “napkin evangelism,” a method that relies on simple diagrams on a smartphone, tablet, laptop, or even old-fashioned piece of paper to transmit an eternal truth.

The method, which in their electronic versions can include animation, is based on the premise that people retain pictures better than words.

“My goal is to help people retain Bible truth by illustrating it in diagrams,” Brake said. “It is also a way of being courteous. Instead of talking to a prospective interest for an hour, you can share with the person the basics of one of the Bible truths in less than five minutes, even when the opportunity arises unexpectedly.”

He has prepared diagrams for 30 different Bible studies and hopes this method can be applied to additional biblical studies and be made widely available to pastors across the territory.

Read related stories:

“5,500 Pastors and Their Families Descend on Austin”

“Thousands of Adventist Ministers CALLED to Texas”

“From Fishbowls to Shark Tanks”