Matt Bistayi (at left), pastor of Valley Church in Allendale, received the Harry Denman Evangelism Award at the 2019 Michigan Annual Conference. After 10 years, Valley continues to “gain traction” with Jesus.

(This article originally appeared at and has been reprinted with permission.)

BY KAY DEMOSS – Senior Content Editor for Michigan Conference of the UMC

None other than Billy Graham once called Harry Denman, “one of the great mentors for evangelism.” Denman lived a simple life, made friends with everyone he met, and shared the love of Jesus far and wide. Denman died in 1976 but his spirit lives on in an award that honors those who bring people into a life-transforming relationship with Jesus Christ.

The Rev. Dirk Elliott, The Michigan Conference Director of Congregational Vibrancy, presented the Harry Denman Award to Matt Bistayi, Pastor of Valley Church in Allendale, during ceremonies on Saturday evening, June 1 at the Grand Traverse Resort. 

In his introduction Elliott quoted Harry Denman saying, “The only way we can see Christ is to see him wrapped in a person. We need to become a package of love, a package of faith, a package of Christ. Then we will be a package of evangelism.” 

Matt Bistayi is such a “package.” He and his wife, Shellie, were sent to Allendale in 2009 to start a new church. “It was a parachute drop,” Matt says. “The pastor and family are parachuted into the community, and they say, ‘Good luck!’” He reports that 70% of parachute church plants fail in the first two to three years. But after five years Matt reports that Valley Church “had hit its stride,” and now, ten years in, “we are gaining traction.”

Valley Church is, “Real friends who laugh with you, worship with you, serve with you, discover Jesus with you, and take next steps with you.” ~ photo courtesy Matt Bistayi

Matt and his team launched Valley on October 10, 2010 with over 100 people in attendance. The church was totally self-sufficient, receiving no conference funding, by 2013, at which time they were chartered. The church is now averaging 175 in worship.

The pastor gives credit the community into which he was dropped saying, “We were blessed with people who came on board, and who wanted to do something different here in Allendale.” Plus, Matt had good instincts. “Part of my story in ministry is what I experienced in college … when I wished I had a community like Valley to surround me,” Matt explains. As they arrived in Allendale, “that was a big part of what was important to my wife and me. We wanted to care about the Grand Valley campus and its students.” The excitement of those young people about involvement in a local church became “a big part of why Valley succeeded in those early years.”

While Valley cared about the campus community, the young and growing congregation never met on campus. “We are not a college church,” Matt says, “though we do care about college students.” The infant Valley first met in the township hall and then moved to a banquet hall in the Main Street Pub. Outgrowing those spaces, the group leased space in the Chemical Bank building on M-45, and they have gathered there ever since. Eventually they would gut and repurpose the bank space to make it look like what it does today. “It’s a non-traditional space that fits our vibe and culture well,” Matt remarks. “Valley is not auditorium-style. We have more of a warehouse-feel. And God is moving in our space.”

The staff photo on Valley’s website expresses the “super real” vibe. Left to right: Lead Pastor Matt Bistayi; Jeremiah Shirreffs, Creative Arts and Worship; Elaine Ebeling, Office Manager; Zach McNees, Student and College Ministries; and Sharayah Clevenger, Valley Kids and Family Ministry. ~ photo courtesy Matt Bistayi

The vision statement of Valley Church, which grew out of Matt’s passion, is: “Helping Others live For God, For People, For a Change.”

Asked to describe the “vibe at Valley,” Matt says, “At Valley we believe it’s okay to have fun in faith. We are laughing with Jesus and with each other.” But the main hallmark of the Valley faith-style is “making a difference in practical ways in the lives and relationships around us.” In a phrase, Matt describes the Valley vibe as, “super real.” He continues, “That’s what a lot of people say. When we meet each month for Pizza with the Pastor, that’s often what we hear.” And it’s clear that “real” does not mean “easy.” “At Valley we are not fake. We are honest. And we are able to laugh even when we screw up royally.”

Perhaps the realness factor at Valley merges out of their radical openness. “We value stories,” Matt shares. “Everyone’s story matters, and that means you matter to us.” What Valley loves is spelled out in compelling fashion on the homepage of their website. The statement concludes, “There are an endless number of things that divide us in the world and we’re convince that God and the church shouldn’t be one of them.”

One of the highlights of the Valley year is “Beach Worship and Baptism” in Lake Michigan. In 2017 the church celebrated ten baptisms, with eleven baptisms in 2018. In 2018 the church experienced 33 professions of faith.
~ Facebook/Valley Church-Allendale

The stories of individuals are just the starting point for relationship at Valley. Matt says, “Jesus changes everything. When Jesus gets ahold of someone, their life and story changes. They become infused with hope. Then they want to share that hope with others.” Matt often reminds the Valley family that, “It is not about us. The most important person at Valley is the person who’s not here yet.”

When asked what exciting things are going on in the life of Valley in 2019, Matt mentions the “15 babies being born this year.” He notes that it’s scary, too. “Where are we going to put them if they all show up on the same Sunday?” he laughs. Valley Kids Ministry is already repurposing space. Go Groups is another ministry that generates energy. Go Groups are 8-12 people meeting regularly to build community and to go deeper with what was preached on Sunday. “Go Groups do life together,” Matt says. “And we like to say, ‘Go somewhere and make a difference.’” Three Go Groups each received $500 grants during 2019 to enable their creative service projects. With that support one of the college Go Groups sponsored a Family Fun Day for those not able to go away on spring break. Another Go Group is planning a Back to School Boutique, open to the community to do “school shopping on the cheap.”

Now a decade old, the pastor says, “We are still learning who we are, what that means, and how we can become more of what God wants us to be.” They continue to “lean into growth.” Matt poses the question, “How can we be momentous enough that we can keep being faithful?”

Valley Church, a ten-year-old congregation, is one of the youngest churches in the Michigan Conference in terms of age of members. Lots of 20-30-40-50 somethings plus 15 babies on the way in 2019. ~ photo courtesy Matt Bistayi

Valley looks head to the next ten years with a bold vision. SENT is a two-year big-vision-initiative for mission ministry, and multiplication. “It’s also about a home for our church in the future as a launching pad for Disciples to be SENT from.” The SENT outlook is expressed this way on Valley’s website: “We don’t want to be a bunch of saved people, we want to be a bunch of SENT people. Who send other people. Across the street. Across the city. Across the world.” Read more about SENT here.

Upon presenting the award at the 2019 Annual Conference, Dirk Elliott said, “Matt describes his ministry by saying, ‘Reaching more people for Jesus is the vision. Because, we know that God is crazy in love with people and the more people who know that; the more lives become filled with the hope, grace, and love of Jesus.”

A “Super Real Evangelist” is not doing what he or she does for personal glory. The 2019 recipient of the Harry Denman Evangelism Award in the Michigan Conference concludes, “God and Valley are in the zone.” And that is what brings Pastor Matt Bistayi joy.

The Minnesota Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church, whose theme this year was “Dare to Reach, Love Boldly”, honored two individuals who have devoted their ministry to reaching their community and young people with the Good News of a life-transforming relationship with Jesus Christ. Their stories are excerpts from an article on the Minnesota Annual Conference website.

Dan Ziegler: Dan Ziegler has served as the director of Koronis Ministries since 2016. In just over three years of his leadership, Koronis is poised to reach record for summer attendance in 2019. This continued growth is attributed to Ziegler’s passion for ministry, his creativity in camp programming, and his heart for sharing Christ with children and young people. “This is how Dan is loving boldly: Dan does not simply say, ‘All are welcome at Koronis’ (but they always are); he says, ‘We had you in mind when we created this program…” said Keith Shew, director of camp and retreat ministries for the Dakotas-Minnesota Area. “This ministry is personal to Dan. He commits his whole heart, his whole self, to it—and because of him, hundreds of children, youth, and adults are experiencing Christ, creation, and community in profound ways.”

Rev. Ronald Bell, Jr.: Rev. Ronald Bell. Jr. was appointed to Camphor Memorial UMC in St. Paul last July. In less than one year, average Sunday worship attendance increased by 26 percent. The congregation received 44 new members, celebrated 13 adult professions of faith, and six baptisms. On April 28, Camphor launched a second Sunday worship service to facilitate further growth. A relationship with Jesus, a kingdom mindset, and a commitment to love all people are the lens through which Bell and the church view their ministry. “Because of Rev. Bell’s relational, compassionate, optimistic, and energetic leadership, the people of Camphor church are propelled out as a community of believers to evangelize and make a difference in people’s lives,” said Teresa Neal, Camphor’s Church Council chair.



LAKE JUNALUSKA, NC, October 1, 2018 — The Foundation for Evangelism (FFE) and The Southeastern Jurisdiction (SEJ) Heritage Center are pleased to announce that beginning in 2019, the two organizations will be sharing office and archival space at the FFE’s headquarters on the campus of Lake Junaluska Assembly in North Carolina. The SEJ Heritage Center will be the second organization to lease space at the location, joining the Smoky Mountain District (SMD) of the United Methodist Church which has housed its offices there since 2012. Although the SEJ Heritage Center will no longer be housed by Lake Junaluska Assembly, it will remain located on the Assembly grounds, and its long-time relationship with the Assembly will continue.

Renovations will begin in December 2018 which will allow the SEJ Heritage Center to relocate and occupy a portion of the office space currently utilized by FFE and SMD staff and will also include storage space to be converted to an area for archives.

Jane Boatwright Wood, President of The Foundation for Evangelism notes that “The cultivating of this relationship has been an ongoing process. We believe that this partnership enhances the ministry of both organizations.  Our team is excited to welcome the Heritage Center as they continue to keep alive the unique history of Methodism by preserving and sharing our stories.”

Jim Pyatt, Chair of the SEJ Commission on Archives and History, states that this partnership in ministry should be mutually beneficial.  He goes on to note that “The Heritage Center is the repository for the papers of Harry Denman, the founder of the Foundation for Evangelism,” adding that, “Part of the function of The Heritage Center is to preserve and record the story of how the people called Methodist have shared the Good News of the love of Jesus with others.  This partnership helps to remind us all of the mission of the church.”

This partnership between the FFE and SEJ Heritage Center will also provide access to onsite meeting facilities including the Reynolds Conference Center which is utilized throughout the year by Methodist-related organizations and churches for retreats, trainings, meetings, and special events. A small chapel is also part of the facility and provides space for worship, reflection, and prayer.

The SEJ Heritage Center serves as the Museum and Archives for the Southeastern Jurisdiction (SEJ) of the United Methodist Church and, as such, for Lake Junaluska Assembly, the oldest and largest of the SEJ agencies.  In this capacity the center houses the essential historical records for both agencies, and is a significant resource for anyone doing research on either the Lake Junaluska Assembly, on the SEJ, or on historical matters related to the United Methodist Church in this part of the United States. Those interested in finding out more or scheduling a visit to the Heritage Center should contact the director at

The Foundation for Evangelism is a catalyst to equip disciples to share the Good News of Jesus Christ, continuing a legacy of impacting how Methodist-tradition clergy, lay and youth are prepared to invite all people into life-transforming relationship with Jesus Christ. The Foundation makes its impact through promoting, encouraging, and providing resources for evangelism in keeping with the doctrinal spirit of John and Charles Wesley. To learn more, visit or email

God tells us to “Go!” So let’s do it!

Nothing holds us back. God’s mission for us and our churches is more exciting and rewarding than we can possibly imagine. This book gives tactics to get your church moving forward in mission by looking at biblical passages where God commands us to “Go!” God calls us to break stereotypes and witness in surprising and unexpected ways.

Click here to see a promotional video! Click here to order from Amazon!

Mark R. Teasdale is the E. Stanley Jones Associate Professor in Evangelism at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, Evanston, IL an elder in The United Methodist Church. He is also the author of Methodist Evangelism, American Salvation.

Reviews from colleagues:

Too many of our churches have circled the wagons, and Mark Teasdale and I are both convinced that step one in the renewal of most churches will involve liberation from their comfort zone and into their communities. Within this agenda, Mark’s very readable contribution, rooted in scripture and relevant to church life today, will join the (unfortunately) short stack of books that can actually help thousands of churches find their way forward.

George Hunter, Dean and Distinguished Professor, Emeritus, School of World Mission and Evangelism, Asbury Theological Seminary, Wilmore, KY

What’s more important than the Great Commission? Unfortunately, too many churches—including the one I grew up in—a lot! This is the book that I wish the leaders in my church had read while growing up.

—Daniel Im, Director of Church Multiplication at and teaching pastor

Teasdale pushes us to see the Great Commission in a new light, a light that encourages us to respond to God’s sending us into our community no matter our size, pedigree, or circumstance. By sharing practices any congregation can do, he carefully provides concrete ways of engaging that do not require huge resources. This book Teasdale removes all excuses congregations make for not seeking to participate in God’s work of transformation.

F. Douglas Powe Jr., James C. Logan Professor of Evangelism (an E. Stanley Jones Professorship), Wesley Theological Seminary, Washington DC

Board and staff leadership of The Foundation for Evangelism (FFE) will engage a select group of innovative Christian leaders in Atlanta, Ga. on January 30-31, 2017 to determine how the FFE may best support evangelistic efforts in the spirit of John Wesley.

“The Evangelism Summit is designed to help The Foundation for Evangelism effectively engage with our key constituencies, which include laity, local church pastors and younger generations, and to determine best practices for evaluating the impact of those partnerships,” said Dr. Larry Klemann, board chair.

The group of 11 United Methodist leaders and Christian innovators, experts who have effective evangelism ministries, were specifically selected for their areas of impact that match the FFE grant focus areas. The FFE identified ministries across the United States where metrics exist to document that lives are being transformed–places where the ideas leaders read about are no longer ideas, but ministry reality.

“We recognize that we are not the practitioners who can answer the key questions. These exceptional leaders can help FFE more clearly understand how evangelism succeeds today, what are needed improvements for the future, and where FFE can invest our grant funds to have the greatest possible impact,” Mrs. Mary Brooke Casad, task force leader and immediate past board chair, said.

“We spent a great deal of time locating ‘next generation leaders.’ We specifically invited folks who are catching the attention of today’s leaders, who in turn say to us, ‘you better keep your eye on that one –God is at work in that ministry!'” Casad said.

Through careful listening and guided discussion during the Evangelism Summit, the FFE leadership expects to inform its ongoing efforts to discern where God is calling The Foundation to engage, provide resources, and encourage efforts to address adaptive challenges in Wesleyan evangelism.

The following individuals/ministries will be participating in the summit:

  • Adolf Hanson, Theologian in Residence, St. Luke’s UMC Indianapolis,
  • Craig Robertson, Founder, Spiritual Leadership, Inc.,
  • Eric Lindh, National Executive Director, Project Transformation,
  • Heather Lear, Director of Evangelism Ministries, Discipleship Ministries of the UMC,
  • Kay Kotan, Founder, You Unlimited,
  • Olu Brown, Lead Pastor, Impact Church;
  • Scott Chrostek, Campus Pastor, RezDowntown, [The UMC of the Resurrection]
  • Tyler Best, Campus Minister, Pfrimmer’s Chapel UMC,
  • Owen Ross, Founding Pastor, Christ Foundry,
  • Rob Peabody, Co-Founder, Awaken,  and
  • Adam Weber, Founding Pastor, Embrace Church.

Headquartered in Lake Junaluska, North Carolina, the FFE is an international grant-making foundation that promotes, encourages and provides resources to grow Wesleyan evangelism by bringing all people into a life-transforming relationship with Jesus Christ. Of particular interest are ministries impacting young people and the local church.

Hasting United Methodist Church is the 2015 Culture of the Call Church Award recipient! Hastings’ vital ministry focuses on recognizing, encouraging, nurturing, and mentoring young people under the age of 35 to answer God’s call on their lives. The Hastings United Methodist Church has identified, encouraged, cultivated, and supported those whom God is calling into full-time Christian service by our “Ministry as a Career” program and internship program. Students are identified through different spiritual gifts and talents that they have for full time ministry and are encouraged to go through our MAC Track program, meeting with a former clergy of the United Methodist Church, Duane Sarazin, meets with the students once a month going through a ministry as a career curriculum that was developed by a former intern at our church, Jack Youso.

“These students get hands on experience through a variety of things: reading scripture in front of the congregation, playing in the worship band, helping out in the sound booth, becoming a leader for our youth worship service, doing the video announcements, preaching, and even being a camp counselor for our middle school camp. Students that want to experience ministry first hand they can apply to become an intern in the youth department. From this, students are supported and encouraged to take ownership in leading a team of their own. The youth department has five interns for the summer, each are in charge of a specific team that includes, men’s ministry, women’s ministry, social media, small groups, videos/media, and planning our middle school camp. MAC Track develops leaders through hands on experience in our church that encourages them to further their education after [completing the program.]”

Press Release Naming Hastings United Methodist Church as Culture of the Call Church

Photo 1 – Hastings UMC receiving award*

Photo 2 – Hastings MACTrack Participants worship at Annual Conference*

Photo 3 – Hastings MACTrack Participants on stage at Annual Conference*

* All photos are provided by the Minnesota Annual Conference

On Evangelism.

*This is a paper that I prepared for the class on Evangelism with Dr. Elaine A. Heath at Perkins School of Theology in SMU. The following are developing thoughts from my personal experiences in ministry and my learning from Dr. Heath’s class. She was a mentor and her work an inspiration to reflect on this topic.


As we look at the world today, we see that more than ever before we need healing. Whether we look at ourselves, TV or the news, people’s lives are falling into ruin. Society as a whole is struggling to survive. In a world of continuous suffering caused by poverty, oppressive and abusive social conditions, institutionalized violence, and systems of power that crush human beings, the mission of the church becomes more relevant. There is an urgent need for healing and mutual social responsibility for each other.  Jesus’ witness exemplifies perfectly how this might look like, and he has commissioned the church to be precisely disciples that follow on his footsteps.

This commission is evangelism, and what this means to Christians is that their mission is to bring peace, hope, joy, peace and healing to a world that suffers and struggles to survive without God and each other. Jesus came to bring us back to God and to each other. The challenge of the church is not so much about how to share the faith as to wanting to share it and wanting to be connected with God and neighbor. The more valuable the faith is to the body of believers, the more they would want to share it. Sara Miles says “[Jesus’] human body was God’s language, as much as his human speech.”[1]“What he said, and what he did were the same thing.”[2] Faith is not just something we confess; it is also how we live. There cannot be an honest and responsible conversation of evangelism if faithful discipleship is not addressed at the same time. Evangelism is about bringing God’s heart to the communities,[3] and this happens through discipleship.

Evangelism starts with the understanding of what is the church called to be and to do. Too often church is treated like a human invention,[4] more like a club, and it fails to experience and share the miracle of God with us. Having a vivid relationship with God is what defines discipleship,[5] and that is the heart of real evangelism. Evangelism happens when people see the way the church loves, for example. In this regard, evangelism is being in love with God, loving the church and caring for the world. Thus, it is not just about how one can relate to God, but how one relates to others because he or she relates to God.

Evangelism is not about talking people into beliefs. It is not about scaring them with horror stories of Hell, but is people sharing with others their personal understanding that life is better, richer, fuller and truer in Christ. It is about giving witness of God’s Kingdom in Christ that is established to give us life in its fullness. Brian McLaren states that the Good News are about God’s faithful solidarity with humanity, and that is not so much about avoiding Hell but about reconciliation, a new life and becoming citizens of God’s Kingdom.[6] In this regard, evangelism is an act of compassion, not an act of judgment; it is an act of love, not an act of hate.


In my assessment of our present condition as a church in regards significant evangelism, I find that the challenges that the church faces in reaching out to new people are not because it is “harder” to do it now days, but because we deviated from what we were constituted to be, a healing and reconciling body of grace lead and guided by the compelling and transforming Story of Jesus. The challenges and shortcomings that I have identified are as follow.

1.       Membership as oppose to Discipleship.

Many churches seem to exist to make members and not disciples. It is not a general rule, but it is general enough to affect the church in a negative way. When the focus is on making members and not on growing disciples, the outcome that the church experiences is people becoming passive and dependent, expecting to be cared for by others. Their mentality as “members” seems to be that their needs are not their responsibility but someone else’s, and that the community to which they belong to and in which they paid their “dues”, is their job to care and serve them.

2.       Self-centered vs. God-centered.

I have seen and experienced that our problems as a church begin when we become self-centered and not God’s centered. Self-centered churches focus on promoting what they are doing, while churches that centered on God testify of what God is doing. Self-centered congregations speak about the difference they are making for people, while congregations centered on God give testimony of the difference God is making in their lives and through them. In short, self-centered churches promote and market themselves and see success as a trophy as in “we did good!” God-centered churches give testimony of Christ and share his Story.

As history will show, when churches become self-centered they may last for a generation, but when they are God’s centered they never cease to exist. While there are some conditions that may impede a congregation to exist as a location, their legacy as disciples continues.

3.       Messy is bad… or is it?

A lot churches fail to be effective in reaching out to new people because their focus is not on the need of those whom they are trying to reach but on them trying to be the “best church.” This attitude in congregations is focus on making everything run smooth by aiming for neatness, having as their measure of success the offering of the best resources to people as in programs, services, goods. They see their mission as providing a neat, clean and edgy product. Churches that are effective in sharing the Gospel and experience growth through multiplication offer relationships and embrace the messiness and imperfection of people and of their own, and are always suspicious of “perfection.”

In this regard, evangelism is messy because is risky and Spirit lead. Any time we take a chance asking God to use us and our churches, we do it hoping for the best but you don’t really know what’s going to happen and how it is going to happen; and many times we failed to proceed with God’s plans because it gets “messy” and out of our comfort zone.

4.       A constrained imagination.

Imagine! Everything changes constantly; the world around us is constantly changing and we too. Technology, culture, language, nature, everything changes. The effectiveness of the church in evangelizing depends on its imagination and capacity to believe God and be faithful to the Story of Jesus, even if it doesn’t make any sense to our logic and reason. In this regard, to imagine means to open ourselves for the move of the Holy Spirit and the changes that comes with it. In my experience, following the lead of the Holy Spirit and coping with the change that takes place often means imagining the unimaginable and taking a chance for it. But change is not something that we master or do it once, rather is a constant practice of our ability to use our imagination and remain faithful; and the greater the imagination, the greater the change and the harder the practice. To evangelize and make disciples in a changing world requires the ability to keep practicing and using imagination as we are led by the Holy Spirit to accomplish the mission of make disciples of Jesus Christ.

5.       Missing identity.

As the Body of Christ, has the church lost track of what was constituted to be? More often than not, churches are kept together by agreements, policy and bureaucracy. While these are necessary and serve an important and vital purpose in the sustainability of the church, it shouldn’t be the reason why the church “sticks” together. If it is, it will hardly see itself motivated to evangelize and make disciples, lacking of relevance and growth. What the church needs to reclaim and focus on is on understanding its connection based on identity and shared purpose; an organic, purposeful and living identity that maintains the Story alive, the Jesus’ Story. This kind of understanding of identity of the Body of Christ is not self-serving or self-centered, but is willing to act against self-interests and self-needs, where the disciples are not expecting to always be cared for and served, but willing to live in a state of “Kenosis.” This identity of “Kenosis” is the willingness of emptying oneself for the wellbeing of the other, watching after other’s needs. That’s the Story of Jesus and it makes sense to be ours too if we are disciples on his likeness.

As a pastor of a transitioning church that is striving to be relevant to its local mission field and to recover its identity and purpose, I have been engage in this sort of conversations and reflections with the leaders of the congregation. Thus far, we have used these insights to reshape the church to model the Story of Jesus as in Kenosis, and to refocus and realign everything we have, believe, and know in order to be faithful to our calling and mission. This church is Oak Cliff United Methodist Church.



Oak Cliff UMC has the basic understanding that evangelism is an action and an attitude of healing and reconciliation. God calls the church to share and teach the Good News that Jesus Christ came to give us, and this good news include the understanding of the church as a body of healing and reconciliation. This reflection about the meaning of the good news for this church comes through the realization that there are many evil forces acting against the world, and the church has been charged by God to defeat them by bringing good news of healing and reconciliation.

In this regard, evangelization starts by addressing the struggles of people and the good news are visibly demonstrated and credibly announced as a message of liberation, love, justice, and peace. This church believes that when the Gospel makes “somebody” out of the “nobodies” of society by restoring self-worth, facilitating the acquiring of hope, joy and peace, then it is truly fulfilling its mission of bringing good news of life to all people.

This realization of purpose began to constitute Oak Cliff UMC as a redeemed community that not only teaches the Bible, but invites, accepts and embraces all people with compassion and love of God. Thus, evangelism is more than talking about God’s love, it has to do also with serving those who are in need. The church in this sense understands evangelism as its calling to be a servant community of healing and reconciliation by going to all people and including all people.

The New Testament includes stories of Jesus announcing the good news of God’s reign to all people, turning the world by giving to people what they needed not what they thought they deserved. The kingdom of God announced by Jesus removed everything that prevented human beings from grasping the reality of God’s will to share love and grace with all people.[7] The good news of Jesus Christ would not make sense in any other context, but this; this is what defines them as good news, that is, its inclusive invitation for healing, reconciliation and regeneration.

This assessment of inclusiveness is what has shaped and lead Oak Cliff UMC to have as one of its core values to be a body of healing and reconciliation through relationships that are shared with one another as they are shared with God. The poet Robert Frost once said: “home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.”[8]Christian congregations are often called “families of faith,” suggesting that the church is that family’s home. That is a good picture of the church if this home is built in God’s grace. If the church is to be the Body of Christ, then it also must be a dwelling place for grace. Healing and reconciliation cannot take place apart from the community because it is in and through the community of faith that springs up.[9] Thus, healing and reconciliation can only be experienced in communion with God and each other.

Oak Cliff UMC believes that any ministry with no grace is not a ministry at all. Evangelism is the fruit of God’s grace already at work in the one who evangelizes and the one who receives the good news. Wesley referred to the fellowship of the church as “one loving heart setting another heart on fire.” In this sense, evangelism must be so grace-filled that people experience redemptive, healing and reconciliatory power in relationships in a way through which everyone is set “on fire” for God and one another.

Oak Cliff UMC affirms that grace-filled evangelism is what distinguishes a church as a home of grace, a home for all. The way the church encounters and invites the community to God speaks more about love and grace than a thousand sermons preached inside the building. This theological reflection is what has constituted Oak Cliff UMC as a grace-filled community of healing and reconciliation. A generous welcoming smile does not suffice; it is necessary to co-suffer and co-rejoice with our neighbor.

The community in which the church is located is diverse, young and very family oriented. Statistics show that what this community wants from the church is Bible study/discussion and prayer groups, recovery programs such as Twelve Steps, food and clothing resources, divorce recovery and parenting support groups.[10] The church has used this information and listened to the community needs. As a result, it has developed practices and ministries geared towards the local community. We believe that to be God-centered means to be community-centered. Wasn’t Jesus doing ministry on the streets? We believe that to still be true. Using these reflections, the church began to offer ministries that will not only tell the Story verbally, but also with actions. These are some of the ministries the church offers:

  • Project Transformation. This is a program engages young adults in purposeful leadership and ministry, supports underserved children and families, and connects the church to community needs.
  • Theological discussion and discipleship groups. These groups are informal gathering where inductive study of the Bible is shared, fellowship is central, and prayer is edifying. These gatherings take place throughout the week in different places that include homes, church and parks.
  • Youth and children church. Wednesday night and Sunday mornings the church offers ministry opportunities for children and youth. The focus is to teach the Gospel and help develop critical thinking about God, life, family and church.
  • Methodist Children’s Home. This program offers outpatient counseling, in-home services, parent training, employment counseling, and assistance with community resources, aftercare and limited financial assistance when other sources are unavailable.[11]
  • Community programs and services such as Karate Classes and Food Pantry. The church partners with the North Texas Food Bank and serves over 3000 people every month with groceries. The karate classes are offered for free to children, youth and adults and are led by a couple members of the church.
  • Mission Work in West Dallas at Nueva Esperanza community. This ministry is led by the laity, and primarily consists on doing ministry with youth and children that live in limited conditions.
  • Overcomers. This is a confidential support group for those facing daily battles of habits that we have developed over the years such as alcohol and drugs that have led to anger, depression and brokenness.

At a glance, it seems that the church is doing good work in reaching out and connecting with the community. What we have learned is that one of the challenges that the church faced for many years amidst the positive programing and ministries, is the development of significant and lasting relationships with the people that serves. The church faced for many years apathy from the community. People would come and use the ministries and services but would not be willing to connect with the church at a relational level. It was then that the church learned that giving stuff away and offering “neat” programing was not enough to connect with the community, but that they needed to be intentional about listening, engaging and connecting at a personal level with the people they were serving. In the last few years this has improved as the church started to gained trust and credibility in the community by reclaiming its identity as disciples of Jesus Christ and not as a good provider.

In this regard, the practices of evangelism in this church have a solid foundation when it comes to programing and ministries, but they need to continue being developed and addressed to make sure that is the people reaching out to people and not programs reaching out to people. I believe this to be a challenge for many churches that struggle with lack of growth; they try to reinvent themselves by changing strategies and adding more programing. Although they are noble intentions and serve a purpose, unless the church people commit personally to evangelism and make disciples of Jesus Christ, the church will not be able to connect with the community. There it needs to be a process, a` personal engagement and commitment of making disciples; we don’t hire someone to do it or expect programs and services to accomplish it, it takes disciples to make disciples.

Oak Cliff UMC has also learned that evangelism is a two-way transforming relationship. This is what Adeney calls reflexive evangelism.[12] She points that evangelism needs to be both a reaching out and a receiving from others.[13] This is particular relevant now days as the church is seen with reservation and suspicion. Many called Christians have used the Gospel for personal gain in an abusive and oppressive way that people in the world see the church as a hypocrite institution because too often the church has been a field for injury and division.

Unless the church is willing to listen and not just to preach, it will continue to be seen as a self-preserving institution and not as the community of healing and reconciliation that is based in grace-filled relationships, and it will not get too far in its evangelistic efforts. If the church truly learns to listen more than talking, it will become much more effective in reaching out to unchurch people that come from different experiences and that see the world, not black or white, but gray. Therefore, evangelism does not happen through or with a formula, but develops from an act of discernment of listening both God and people’s needs and stories.

This two-way transformation is one in which the mission of the church has a principal task to seek to reflect God’s loving concern for all people, for the principle of love requires that human beings be concerned not just to listen and to love God, but to listen and to love their neighbor. It is in this listening that the opportunity to share the Story of Jesus takes place. The struggles that the church currently faces in reaching out to new people are not for lack of professionalism, resources and strategies to reach out, but because it became self-focus and deaf. Any great idea, program, new tool, methods or strategies don’t have the power to truly evangelize. While these “tools” may be good and necessary to support ministries to certain extent, they can’t heal and reconcile people with God. Jesus’ Story does. His, is the Story of grace. Evangelism is not about converting non-Christians, but about becoming messengers of the Story, ambassadors of reconciliation and healing.

To evangelize is to let the Story do its work by the church becoming an “angel of good news.”

[1] Sara Miles, Jesus Freak: Feeding, Healing, Raising the Dead (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2010), 2

[2] Ibid 2

[3] Elaine A. Heath, class notes: Evangelism and Ecclesial Practices.

[4] Elaine A. Heath, The Mystic Way of Evangelism: a Contemplative Vision for Christian Outreach (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008), 132 “Numbers, buildings, revenue, honors, being called the Reverend Doctor, being known as the Tall Steeple Church…”

[5] Paul W. Chilcote and Laceye C. Warner, eds., The Study of Evangelism: Exploring a Missional Practice of the Church(Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2008), 230

[6] Brian D. McLaren, A New Kind of Christianity: Ten Questions That Are Transforming the Faith, Reprint ed. (New York, NY: HarperOne, 2011), 139

[7] Recinos, Harold J., Good News from the Barrio. (WJK Press 2006) 102, 104

[8] Frost, Robert. The Death of the Hired Man, The Poetry of Robert Frost, ed. Edward C. Lathem,  38

[9] Paul W. Chilcote and Laceye C. Warner, eds., The Study of Evangelism: Exploring a Missional Practice of the Church(Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2008), 28



[12] Frances S. Adeney, Graceful Evangelism: Christian Witness in a Complex World (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2010), 137

[13] Ibid. 137