What’s the difference between the YMCA and your church?
by Daniel Ausbun
I’m writing this from Schlater, Mississippi, in the heart of the Mississippi Delta.
This 19-county region is one of America’s poorest. The economic, educational and spiritual needs are extremely challenging. Here in the heart of the Bible Belt, only Christ and His church would be able to meet the Delta’s needs.
Are local churches ministering to the least of these in their communities? Are churches prepared to minister to the great needs surrounding them?
The Young Men’s Christian Association, also known as the YMCA, began in London in 1844. The “Y” is common in many cities with a focus on helping young people stay active and out of trouble. The slogan of the YMCA in 1850 said, “Come to the church, be converted, and play basketball with us.”
Today the “Y” says, “Come play basketball with us.”
Many churches offer the same opportunities as your local YMCA. Ball leagues, bowling nights, fitness centers, skating parties, Boy Scouts and summer camps often reveal churches are similar to community centers, such as the “Y.” Your church must minister and reach your community with the Gospel — Christ sends us to the “highways and lanes” (Luke 14:23).
He did not teach His disciples to play basketball, build gyms and keep local families busy. If so, He wouldn’t have mattered much in the course of history. Your church shouldn’t be in competition with the “Y,” the county recreation department or the performing arts center.
Jesus walked among the sick and dying. He looked over the city and wept. He had a global mission to the world.
Your church offers two things the “Y” cannot provide. First, a local church has an obligation to minister to every person in the community with the Gospel. This doesn’t mean “invite people to our building,” but rather “step into other people’s lives.” You must go to the people before they first come to Jesus.
This past week I had the opportunity to meet with Jim Phillips, pastor of North Greenwood Baptist Church in the Mississippi Delta. Jim is training people to hold a Billy Graham “Matthew Party” the second week of November. A “Matthew Party” is when a person invites their unchurched friends and neighbors over for a cookout and then shares a 30-minute DVD from Evangelist Billy Graham, who turns 95 this November.
The DVD includes Graham sharing the Gospel and provides the opportunity to respond right there in your living room. The purpose of this outreach is to reach people who would not typically attend a worship service at church, but would come eat dinner at a friend’s home.
Why is it called a “Matthew Party?” Right after Matthew became a follower of Christ, he hosted a grand banquet at his house and invited “tax collectors and sinners” (Luke 5:28-30). Instead of joining a committee at church, he began sharing the Gospel with his lost co-workers.
Your church needs to be engaging every person in your community with this Good News of Jesus.
The second obligation a local church has that the “Y” cannot provide is a mission to the world. Isaiah 52:7 boldly proclaims the beauty of the feet of the herald who proclaims the Good News of salvation. God loves our broken world and Christians must have a vision greater than six or eight blocks around their church building.
When an earthquake hits Haiti, your church should respond. If Syria’s in civil war, local churches must be looking for opportunities to minister to refugees. Your church should care when thousands of people die because of flooding in northern India. Is your local church responding to the needs around the world?
I was listening to the radio driving over here to the Delta, and an atheist was on the air saying he gave up on God when he attended church and all they seemed concerned about was growing the church. They wanted more people and bigger buildings. Every Christian has something much greater to offer to this atheist: a Resurrected Savior and a mission to your community and the world.