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Originally published October 13, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified October 13, 2007 at 2:01 AM

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Congregations do a different kind of Sunday service

Members of West Seattle Christian Church will not be attending services Sunday morning. Instead, they'll be sprucing up a local elementary...

Seattle Times religion reporter

Faith in Action

More information on the Faith in Action program:

www.putyourfaithinaction.org

Members of West Seattle Christian Church will not be attending services Sunday morning.

Instead, they'll be sprucing up a local elementary school, landscaping public parking areas, and taking breakfast to local firefighters.

The idea, said family-life pastor Dan Jacobs, is "to build into our church community the value of serving."

It's part of Faith in Action, a new four-week program encouraging congregations to explore what the Bible says about serving others, and putting those ideas into action by working on projects to address local needs.

The program culminates in tomorrow's Faith in Action Sunday, when many participating churches nationwide plan to cancel their services and instead spend the time on service projects.

The effort is sponsored by World Vision, the Federal Way-based Christian humanitarian organization; Zondervan, a Christian publishing company; and Outreach Inc., a provider of church communication resources.

The idea for the program came about when World Vision partnered with Zondervan to publish the Faith in Action Study Bible, which focuses on what the Old and New Testaments say about issues such as poverty, the environment and concern for one's neighbors, said Mike Owen, director of new initiatives for World Vision.

"We thought: That's a great resource, but what comes next?" Owen said. "We decided to create curriculum geared toward mobilization and outreach to our communities."

About 600 churches — evangelical Christian, mainline Protestant and Catholic — have bought program kits, which includes the Book of Luke from the Faith in Action Study Bible, a small group curriculum, daily devotionals, a service project planning guide, and a T-shirt emblazoned with the slogan: "Don't go to church. Be the church."

Jacobs' West Seattle Christian Church is among 40 churches in the Puget Sound area that have purchased the kits.

He likes the idea of canceling a Sunday service to instead work in the community. "It's totally unexpected. People don't expect us to be out on Sunday mornings," he said.

And people get used to doing things week after week — like going to Sunday services. "I like pushing people out of their comfort zone somewhat," Jacobs said. "It's almost a wake-up call."

Plus, he said, evangelical churches have a reputation for not being as concerned with needs outside their four walls.

Mainline Protestant and Catholic churches have a history of social service.

"Evangelical churches have lagged behind in that," Jacobs said. But "over the last few years, there's been a resurgence of identifying needs in the community and really living out the idea that our faith calls us to love God and, secondly, to love our neighbors as ourselves. And service is an outflow of loving our neighbors."

He hopes the program will encourage those who don't already serve to do so more routinely, for it to become a lifestyle for the people in his church.

"We teach about how God values everybody," he said. "It's time to act like we believe what we're teaching."

At Calvary Community Church in Sumner, members haven't just been studying the curriculum; they've also been doing community service projects since early October. They've helped residents at a mobile home park whose homes were damaged in last year's floods, served food to the homeless, and re-tarred roofs for senior citizens.

"It was exactly what we felt we needed as a church," said Stacy Armstrong, community development director. The church had already looked into how it could serve community needs. "Faith in Action simply provided a spiritual basis for why we were going out in the community."

And although church leaders won't cancel services this Sunday — the last time they did that, and didn't take an offering, it affected church finances — people will go out to serve.

And church leaders intend to make community service an integral part of church life. They will preach on the subject once a month. Small groups within the church plan to continue doing projects throughout the year.

"We're trying to make it part of our DNA," Armstrong said. "Our goal is not to stop serving on the 14th. It's to continue serving."

Janet I. Tu: 206-464-2272 or jtu@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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