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By Lilly Fowler
Religion News Service

Jim Yelvington decided he would do something different with the launch of his new church in San Juan Capistrano, Calif. — cancel Sunday worship services.
As part of a new “Faith in Action” program, Yelvington traded traditional Sabbath singing and praying for a Sunday dedicated to community service. His congregation, Sanctuary Church, which included about 20 people at the time, went to senior living homes and visited people who might otherwise have had little company.
Yelvington says the program, which is being sponsored by three major Christian organizations, helped his church get started in the right way.
“It builds an idea of servanthood into our congregation,” Yelvington says. “It’s been built into the DNA of our church.”
World Vision, a Christian humanitarian group; Outreach, a seller of communication and marketing tools for parishes; and Zondervan, a major Christian publishing house, have teamed up to offer “Faith in Action” to churches across the country.
The program combines video-based sermons, group work and individual Bible study over a four-week course. At the end of the fourth week, parishes are encouraged to worship God by volunteering instead of in traditional sermons-and-singing services.
Mike Owen of World Vision is one the founders of the program and says “Faith in Action” is based on Scripture’s call to help those in need. He warned, however, that “the idea isn’t to cancel (all) worship services. The idea is to get churches to think differently about church.”
Stacey Armstrong, community development director for Calvary Community Church in Sumner, Wash., a parish with more than 2,000 members, says her congregation’s response to the program was positive.
“It is stepping into someone else’s shoes and understanding what it is to be compassionate,” she said. “It’s forever changed the perspective of the church.”
Armstrong says only one member of her congregation objected to the canceling of worship services. The congregation is now trying to make community service “a natural part of who we are,” she added.
Armstrong said canceling services on just one Sunday did impact the church budget, but she has faith the church made the right choice.
Owen says World Vision plans to continue to promote the program by making Oct. 14 national “Faith in Action” Sunday.
He says people who still feel squeamish about the idea of canceling Sunday services should remember Jesus’ work on the Sabbath — reaching those in need — despite objections from the Pharisees.
“Really, what we’re doing is not work,” he said, “as much as service.”
Copyright 2007 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.

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