By Pamela Price
Contributing writer, The Hill Country View
Two years ago, hoping to revive a dwindling congregation, new pastor Dan Allen encouraged his Leon Springs Baptist Church flock to think of innovative ways to reach out to the community. In response, Rebecca Muegge, a longtime cyclist, and her husband, Frank, pitched a novel idea to Allen: a twice-monthly breakfast for weekend riders.
“We’d always parked at the church to ride Boerne Stage Road, and it just seemed like a good notion—to offer cyclists a place to park, some coffee and a little bit of food,” says Rebecca. “Frank thought of the name, ‘Bike and Brunch.’ We typed up an outline [for Allen], and he approved it. We started out with a more elaborate sit-down meal but found it was better to have something simple near the road, so we bought a tent and gave out hummus, orange juice, water and muffins.”
“People come and go, in small groups, and we just talk with them,” says Frank. “It’s a nice way to meet new people.”
This type of no- or low-pressure outreach is increasingly typical of local churches seeking to capitalize on the area’s rapid growth by serving the community first, proselytizing second. Especially visible of late have been the activities of Leon Springs Baptist and Cross Mountain Church, both situated on Boerne Stage Road—the Main Street of Leon Springs, if you will.
Even strictly secular activities are regarded as an opportunity to connect with the community. Allen reports that when local officials approached him about setting up election polls inside his facility, he eagerly agreed, hoping that voters would take closer notice of the church’s activities once on the grounds. Borrowing from the Book of Matthew, he says pointedly—and repeatedly–of his church’s outreach approach, “I like to say, ‘Let them see our good works before they hear our good words.”
Allen’s tactics have paid off, with weekly attendance having almost tripled within the last two years. The church continues to explore new outreach initiatives. In fact, the church’s innovative “Bags of Blessings” program—for which members offered prayers for homeowners along with cookies, pasta, bread and other goodies just prior to Thanksgiving—was so well received that other San Antonio churches reportedly plan to copy it.
“We learned a lot from the Bags of Blessings program,” says Erik Kuykendall, Allen’s associate pastor. “Every house has its issues—cancer, divorce, loneliness—everyone needs prayer. It was a reaffirmation that we all face challenges, no matter how wealthy we are.”
Jerry McNeil, reaching and missions pastor of Cross Mountain Church, regards the area’s affluence as both an obstacle and an opportunity when it comes to outreach.
“How do I help those people in the Dominion know that there’s a God that can help them, and the experience is something that they just can’t buy?” says McNeil. To answer his own question, he pulls out a small card bearing the phrase “This is a simple way of saying that God loves you.” “We distribute these to our people and encourage them to just do something simple, like pay for the next person behind them in line at Starbucks or to buy them lunch. You don’t really even have to say anything, just hand the card over. I’ve done it so much that the Starbucks counter staff knows to just go ahead and take the next person’s order because I’m paying for it.”
In keeping with the spirit of random kindness, McNeil oversees the delivery of buckets filled with cleaning supplies to homeowners in the newest subdivisions. And while MapQuest may lag behind in cataloguing new streets, McNeil has a firm grasp on the changing landscape. “I work with the developers’ offices and have maps of each subdivision,” he says. “I know when a house is finished and about to be moved into. Then, at the start of the month, we send people out to leave the buckets on doorsteps as people move in.”
In assuming the traditional role of community welcome wagon, McNeil ensures that his organization is top-of-mind as a resource for newcomers. Moreover, he is ever ready to discuss the many events and services that his church makes available for the community-at-large, including an annual Easter egg hunt, faith-based counseling, and monthly Mothers of Preschoolers (MOPS) meetings. Cross Mountain also makes its facility available to nascent civic organizations such as the Walnut Pass Homeowners Association. Yet the community initiative for which the church is most well known, however, is the annual harvest festival, held on October 31.
“We had over a thousand people here last year,” says McNeil. “It’s a safe, free alternative to Halloween, and lots of children come in costume. We have people dressed as cartoon characters and really go out of our way to make sure everyone in the community knows that they are welcome.”
It may be argued that in a suburban area with no civic center, no discernible annual community events, and a dearth of social service organizations, local churches are making the most of the opportunity to be social hubs. As a famous sociologist once noted, it’s no accident that the root of “communion” and “community” are one and the same.
Yet the local pastors demure from those high-falutin’, secular notions, redirecting the conversation ultimately to their true mission: saving souls. And in the end, faith—not hot coffee or free housekeeping supplies—is the biggest draw for true believers.
“We appreciate that [Allen] is following God’s lead in opening up the church and letting the fresh air in,” says Rebecca Muegge. “He wants us to bounce new ideas off of him, and, say, if we wanted to do outreach with go-go dancers, well, he’s definitely not going to allow that to happen! It all comes back to doing what is in keeping with God’s word.”