ACMC: Bringing it Down to the Grass Roots
Youd love to see it happen in any congregation of whatever size. According to Pastor David Runnion-Bareford of Candia Congregational Church, Candia, New Hampshire, God took a perfectly dead church in the middle of a village, on a steady decline for 10 years, and turned it around.
Five years ago the church had an attendance of 35 in winter; 10 in summer. It was closed for the month of August. Out of its $26,000 budget, the $100 devoted to missions wasnt spent because the congregation couldnt find anything to spend it on.
This year the church has had an average Sunday morning attendance of 150. It supports a mission budget of $28,000, and the funds are being put to strategic, good use!
Runnion-Bareford said that in 1983, the year after he was called to pastor the ailing congregation, there were three women on the missions committee who were Christians. As a committee, they didnt know what they ought to be doing or how to do it, but they prayed God would show them. They also prayed for a missionary to support.
It was about that time that a mailing from ACMC, the Association of Church Missions Committees, came through. They called Tom Telford, the ACMC northeastern regional representative, and asked him for help.
They were overwhelmed when he arrived at their doorstep with all the work done already. Telford knew what questions the women needed to ask. He knew the answers they could provide. He knew why they might want to answer one way or another. He knew how to evaluate and interview a missionary . . . .
In short, for a church that knew nothing about what they ought to do, (Telford) had all the information they needed to get on the road quickly.
Begun in 1974, ACMC is not an organization so much as its a movement, a network, a fellowship of missions-minded churches, said Bill Waldrop, ACMCs minister-at-large.
Roy Smith, western states coordinator for ACMC, calls it a bridge between denominations, mission agencies, and local churches.
However you want to describe it, the associations motto is Churches Helping Churches in Missions.
Churches Helping Churches
Lots of churches believe, theologically, that people are dying without Christ and going to hell, said Ken Campbell, ACMCs director of operations. But theyre doing nothing about it. Were here to challenge them to get on board with missions, and to help others get on board. Education is the primary vehicle.
Operated largely by mission committee members in local congregations, ACMC is very much grass roots, according to Tom Jebo, minister of missions at Los Gatos Christian Church, Los Gatos, California. Its people in churches struggling with issues: how to obey God in a certain area; how to handle money; how to deal with missionaries; strategy . . . .
We are able to talk with others who have struggled with these issues and some who are still strugglingand we gain from that perspective.
Experience, carefully analyzed and evaluated, can lead to wisdom. ACMC has analyzed and evaluated its members experience, reduced their wisdom to writing, and published it in a number of books, pamphlets, and brochures.
Among the most significant materials available from ACMC are a Church Missions Policy Handbook, a Missions Conference Planner, and, soon to be released, a manual for local churches on how to get started in missions.
For the church thats trying to write a missions policy for the first time, the Handbook is vital, said Curt Dobbs of Reinhardt Bible Church in Dallas, Texas. For those who are involving themselves with agencies, ACMC has a Mission Agency Inventory. If you know nothing about a mission, the Inventory provides a good way to find out. It touches on everything. Then theres Sunday school curriculum, a Congregational Education Handbook, the Missions Conference Planner . . . .
ACMC member congregations receive a 25 percent discount on all materials ACMC produces.
The Southern California Regional Conference held November 14th this year, attracted more people than any national conference to dateover 800 registrants, and possibly 1000 in attendance! The two national conferences this past summerone on the east coast, one on the westhad a total combined attendance of just over 1200.
You come back from ACMC conferences with information, encouragement, and ideas, said Jebo of Los Gatos Christian Church, but perhaps more than anything else, you come back with the attitude, Hey, they did it! We can too.
Youll usually learn a little from plenary speakers at the conferences, but more comes from sitting over coffee and at meals with two or three people from other churches.
David Kniffen of Montgomery, New York, confessed, Its so hard at church. Im the one always doing the talking trying to get other people interested in missions. Thats why Im excited to be at the national conference: because everyone else here is interested in missions.
This summers east coast conference was the fifth national conference in a row for Carol Wilson, the staff member responsible for missions at East Lansing Trinity Church, East Lansing, Michigan.
She said that whenever she goes to an ACMC conference, she looks for big ideas. This year one of the big ideas she latched onto had to do with restricted-access countries. She said she wanted to make sure it was placed in her churchs mission strategy; she wanted to make plans and take concrete steps to send people to restricted access countries.
East Lansing Trinitys sub-committee on missionary nurture came out of the 1985 national conference in Wheaton, Wilson said. Another outcome from the 85 conference was the churchs strategy statement.
We used to work on the basis of Nickels and Noses: How many people for how much money? Now were praying and strategizing for winning the world.
Wilson said that besides ideas, she also looks for potential speakers and films. Last summer I found out about The Wait of the World. This year it was a film on tentmaking.
Irv Widders, an associate professor of horticulture at Michigan State University, is the mission committee chairman at Wilsons church. He said that, once they returned, each of the nine people from Trinity who attended the conference was going to give a report of what the primary, most significant thing was that they had learned.
Youre being bombarded by so much information, you have to glean out the one item that is most important. Weve benefitted tremendously from those items over the years.
Two years ago, he said, I became convicted about our need for a mission strategy. Now we have that in place. Lowell Friar (another committee member) comes here and learns from others about mission hospita-lity. I walk away from here with contacts with mission agencies . . . .
I know the agencies, but getting to speak to representatives is very important. You read things in concept, but here you get to talk with people who are on the cutting edge. Ive had confirmed here some of the things Ive been learning and reading about. For instance, supporting third world missions and facilitating and developing indigenous leadership.
Herman Bass, missions chairman of the Christian Fellowship Church, a 13-year old congregation in Evansville, Indiana, said his church is so convinced of the benefit of attending the national conferences, We would be willing to pick up two scholarships in order to get someone new to be able to go. We think thats a worthy investment. He reminded me as we said goodbye: Make sure you print that offer!
2. Missions Consortia
Having been introduced to ACMC at a national conference held in Washington, DC, Graham soon found himself asking questions like, Whats the full breadth of missions? and How can we get our people involved beyond the budget? And he began longing for fellowship with other people who shared the same concerns. That longing pushed him to help form the Washington, DC mission consortium.
Two years ago we had our first meeting with 100 missions-minded people from about 25 churches, he said. Our purpose was to share together how we might be more effective in our churches. We decided to meet together on a regular basis.
Since then, the group has met 10 times each year. On a quarterly basis, they hold round tables and workshops.
A roundtable, said Graham, is a two-hour Saturday meeting where people share ideas about a single topic. November 14th this year witnessed a typical meeting. The title was Mission Trips: Lessons Learned.
Four presentations were planned: one, by a church, had to do with mission trips they had sponsoredwhat things worked well, and what could have been done better. Another church planned to talk about its experiences sending young people out through agencies that specialize in short-term mission programs. A pastor was scheduled to discuss the impact on his ministry of a short-term mission trip he took. And representatives from an agency that sponsored 12 short-term teams last summer was scheduled to present ways churches could do a better job preparing their members for short-term experiences.
Graham said workshops are half-day affairs that generally include a keynote speaker and four workshops on different subjects.
The lowest attendance at any of these quarterly meetings was 25. The highest was 100. It averages around 35 to 40, he said.
Besides the quarterly get-togethers, there are six planning meetings each year. Despite the name, however, the main reason people go to these meetings is for the fellowship and encouragement they receive by meeting together.
Two years ago, Graham said, our church had a strong emphasis on foreign missions but nothing on inner city or single young adult ministries, though we had 250 young adults in Sunday school.
Now we have 25 people working in the inner city and most of the leadership for that outreach is coming from single young adults.
The reason? Weve begun matching resources and needsmostly as a result of the challenge of other churches.
Another church had a very large missions budget focused almost completely on the inner city; theyve now strengthened their foreign missions program, Graham said. Again, the result of fellowship.
3. Area Representatives and Regional Coordinators
Tom Telford says he visits 150 to 200 churches every two months: I get eight or 10 calls a night. How can I do this? people ask. I hear youre a missions expert. Im a new missions chairman.
Western States Coordinator Roy Smith said he has served 3500 churches in the past seven years. He said his work is primarily composed of training mission committee members and fulfilling the role of a mission pastor in churches that cant afford one on their own.
A church in Fresno wants to reach out to Hmong from Laos but doesnt know how Smith said. Ive been able to find two agencies who can help them. Ive got a network now of churches who are working with Hmong. In fact, I found two other churches in Fresno already working with them.
Ed Huizingh, ACMC area representative in Tempe, Arizona, said a good part of his time is spent in helping churches to develop written policies and mission awareness and education programs.
For people who have used it to find resourcs, the directory may be the membership benefit prized above all others. Runnion-Bareford of Candia Congregational said his church began thinking of providing housing for missionaries who need a place of refuge when they return from the field. Were blessed with people living in ready-made retreat centers, he said, 100- and 200-year old houses on 3- to 5-acre plots.
As innovative and unusual as the idea of a local congregation providing a missionary retreat may sound, Runnion-Bareford said the Candia church discovered that ACMC was able to give us the names of 30 churches that were providing this kind of service already.
When Candia Congregational contacted those churches, they were able to tell us what kinds of houses worked best (layouts), the kinds of contractual relationships they had with the missionaries, how their programs were working . . . .
We didnt have to muddle through all the questions. We just talked with them.
Huizingh in Tempe, Arizona, said he has used the networking concept to help his church set up a program that addresses the training and guidance needs of young people going to the field for a summer.
Several churches have done an outstanding job in this area though there isnt much in print, he said. I used the ACMC directory to find 12 such churches. I got responses from seven or eight of them.
Seeking to Give
As Bass said, Our purpose (in being members of ACMC) isnt to save money to buy something. Were in ACMC to promote missions and to educatenot only our own people, but others as well.
Larry Walker, a staff member of Fellowship Bible Church in Dallas and also south-central regional coordinator for ACMC (see Cover Story, Part I), says his church doesnt merely allow but actually encourages him to spend about 20 hours per week doing ACMC work. They pay his salary and cover all his ministry expenses.
Why? Because we feel that helping other churches is an important part of our mission budget. I tell churches, You dont join ACMC for what you get out of it; but to help mobilize other churches and to multiply your effectiveness.
Unfortunately, he says, even when it comes to missions, too many churches think only in terms of What will this mean for me (us)?
Runnion-Bareford echoed Walker and Bass when he said his church views ACMC as an instrument to help transport the revolution (of what occurred at Candia Congregational) into other (United Church of Christ) congregations.
Candia sponsors a joint missions conference with another mission-minded UCC congregation in Manchester, New Hampshire. This is a conference for mission committee members and church leaders, said Runnion-Bareford. We get about 125 people from 35 different UCC congregations.
The real goal here, is that these other UCC churches will take note of whats happening in our (the Candia and Manchester) congregations, and the social action/missions committees from these other churches will come and ask, What are you doing? How do you do it?
Then well tell them to contact Tom Telford or well pass on the appropriate materials ourselves.
Several years after joining ACMC and after learning much of what they had to teach us, we examined whether or not to stay in the organization, said Dobbs of Reinhardt Bible Church. Wed been sending key missions people plus the chairmen of the elders and deacons boards to the national conferences. So wed gotten to the point where wed trained a lot of people. We werent getting much from our membership anymore. Should we continue?
We met with (former) ACMC Executive Director John Bennett and asked him why we should continue. He said, Youve learned an awful lot, yes. But our motto is: Churches Helping Churches in Missions. What are you doing in that regard?
Our answer? Nothing! We were doing nothing with our experience and knowledge to help other churches in missions! I realized that was a real bad thing on our part.
Dobbs said that now, with this broader mission mobilization perspective in mind, Reinhardt is very much in favor of maintaining its membership in the association.
If we tried to push missions as an independent church, the denominational churches wouldnt listen to us. But because we support and sponsor ACMC regional conferences they do.
Don Kanaley, our missions pastor, once said, We have a biblical responsibility to help other churches. What better means than to work with the network already established in ACMC?