GCSDA Corruption #42
C. ELWYN PLATNER
On Sunday morning, more than a dozen members of the Las Vegas Mountain View Sventh-day Adventist Church in Nevada are busy mixing pancake batter, setting out dishes and other tableware, preparing breakfast in a local public elementary school auditorium. Outside, signs posted earlier on street corners and in the parking lot point the way to the Higher Grounds Community Church, Mountain View's experimental outreach project.
By 10 a.m. the smell of frying pancakes greets the first visitors from the surrounding community as they approach the school, many of them for the first time. They've come as a result of a mass mailing of invitations to homes in a local postal zip code to attend Sunday morning religious services.
As the crowd grows and enjoys pleasant conversation around two dozen small tables scattered throughout the auditorium, members of a music group follow Pastor Tim Dunfield to the platform and begin taking their places. While the visitors finish their breakfast Dunfield welcomes the growing crowd by for the first meeting in their new location. Led by Brad Reed and Wally Hanson, the band provides accompaniment for singing for the next 20 minutes.
It's a high-tech "seeker-style" experimental service, not designed for Adventists, but for Anglo Boomers and Gen Xers who may not be acquainted with the inside of any church, explains David Gemmell, pastor of the nearby Las Vegas Mountain View church which is sponsoring this creative evangelism project. "Most Adventists would not be comfortable in this service with its contemporary band and laid-back style," he remarked. "But this type of service has already proved highly successful with three other rapidly growing (non-Adventist) churches in Las Vegas. Currently, nearly 80 persons are attending the meetings and only 20 are Adventists.
Sunday morning evangelism may sound unconventional or even radical, Gemmel said. Yet the concept has roots in solid theology. Jesus did not confine his ministry to Sabbath services at the temple. Some of His greatest ministry opportunities occurred in secular times and places with worldly people, Gemmel's project proposal said. Also, Ellen White, a co-founder the Adventist Church encouraged Sunday outreach meetings.
"The Sunday morning evangelistic project will bring the gospel to unchurched people at a time when they are most receptive to religious things. . . . This project will not be a worship service for the believers, but instead will be an evangelistic meeting that believers can bring their unchurched friends to." The seekers will be gradually drawn into a home cell church where they can begin to grow in their walk with Christ and their understanding of the fundamental beliefs of the Adventist faith.
Deeply committed members of the 600-member Mountain View church launched their experiment on Easter weekend last year at a school in the rapidly growing Summerland area of the city. Their initial invitation went by mail to 30,000 homes and drew 150 people that Sunday.
As the plan unfolded, Dunfield was recruited from Williams Lake, British Columbia, where he was a Bible teacher and chaplain at Caraboo Adventist Academy. He had coordinated a similar program titled Blue Rock while attending the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary in Berrien Springs, Michigan. Each Sunday Dunfield presents a clearly Adventist message but aimed at people who "don't know how to talk church, people whose lives have fallen apart with divorce or terms in prison. "We want to be seen as having something they will want," Dunfield said. " Each one is invited to participate in a small group to build friendships with other new people who come to the service."
Gemmell and Dunfield see a bright future for Higher Grounds Community Church because Las Vegas is growing at the rate of 5,000 a month. They hope that this model can be replicated in other cities across the country.
As they donned their helmets after their first service at Higher Grounds Community Church that Sunday morning, four members of the local Christian Motorcycle Association, all dressed in their black leather jackets and pants, commented, "We're really excited about what we saw and heard here this morning. We're coming back next week and bring our kids."
C. Elwyn Platner is Pacific Union Conference communication director. -Pacific Union Recorder.