Faith leaders seek ways to impact their communities amid declining membership

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – With church membership steadily declining, faith leaders are seeking ways to impact their communities, as well as win souls.

A recent Gallup poll shows church membership in the United States has dropped considerably in the last two decades, and the number of people who say they have no religion has increased.

However, the stats have motivated some pastors to do even more to address the needs of people in their communities, and hopefully show that the church is their for them in practical ways, as well as spiritually.

Alex Horton is the pastor of Longview Heights Seventh-day Adventist Church in Memphis, Tennessee. He says he’s not oblivious to the decline in membership, but his concern is more about helping people first, rather than trying to make them members.

“We have to ask them what their needs are,” says Horton, whose church is located in south Memphis. “I believe if we show enough love, that will attract people”

One initiative the church has to try to help parents, particularly single parents or guardians, is a summer program where youth can come from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and have some fun, while they also get tutoring in math, science, reading, and learn about the Bible.

“You have to develop relationships with people, and this is one way,” says Horton.

On July 13, Longview is having a special program faith leaders hope will impact not just their community, but those in the surrounding area.

Called “Preach Out,” several pastors and their choirs from different churches and denominations are invited to “preach the word” from morning to evening. Each pastor is given time to speak, and the event is open to the public.

Faith leaders see it as another opportunity to invite people into the church, and allow them to meet individuals who can possibly help them if they’re in need.

“There are going to be some problems,” says Horton. “But where do you go when you want to talk (about them)? I hope our church can be one of those areas.”

In Nashville, Tennessee, Faith United Missionary Baptist Church recently reached out to its north Nashville community when it hosted a forum to discuss the stigma of mental illness, particularly in the black church.

At the packed-out forum, experts talked about how to remove the stigma, find problems, and aid congregants and the community in getting care to manage their mental health.

“We wanted people to see that the church has as much interest in this issue as anybody else,’ says Dr. Roosevelt Walker, the church’s pastor. “So, we wanted to engage the community and deal with this issue that has been stigmatized, especially in the African-American community.”

Like Longview in Memphis, Faith United also seeks to engage youth outside the church. In August, the church’s after-school program – which has a heavy emphasis on literacy – will be in its eleventh year.

Walker says the program is a way to attract parents who may not regularly attend church.

“You cannot engage kids without engaging their parents, and we want to do that,” says Walker.

Not too far from Faith United, Riverside Seventh-day Adventist Church is reaching out to a specific group of people – the homeless.

The church’s members had always helped the homeless, but they pledged to do so more consistently, and earnestly, following a request by one of their elders. Don Johnson, a convicted murderer who was on death row, became a Christian while incarcerated and was ordained an elder by the Riverside SDA Church.

Johnson was executed in May. But before he died, instead of using the $20 allotted by the state for his last meal, Johnson requested the money be given to a homeless person. In response to his request, members of Riverside served close to 200 homeless people on Memorial Day weekend, a couple of weeks after Johnson’s death.

“We’re going to do that every Memorial Day weekend,” says Pastor Furman Fordham, II, Riverside’s pastor. “That’s a spark from Don’s last request.”

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