Dalton First United Methodist Church’s doors won’t open for worship on Sunday, Sept. 29.
For one Sunday this month, the church is even encouraging people not to attend church
It’s not a protest.
It’s not a political statement.
It’s founded in love.
“The idea means to be out of the church building and to be what the church is supposed to be,” said Kenny Ott, the outreach pastor at Dalton First United Methodist Church on Thornton Avenue.
Instead of having a traditional church service that day, members will be serving the community as part of “Don’t go to Church. Be the Church!”
“Look what Jesus did,” Ott said. “Anytime he ministered, he was out of the church. He did very tangible things to meet the needs of the people and the community. That’s what it means to be the church.”
Yard signs have been placed around Whitfield County saying “don’t go to church” and list the website, servewhitfield.com. But some of the signs have been taken down, including the ones on the church’s lawn.
“The first day we put them out, people took them down and left them laying there,” Ott said.
He isn’t sure if people realized the signs were placed there by the church intentionally.
On Sept. 29, church members — and anyone else who wants to volunteer — will go out into the community and work on service projects. Some of the projects already planned include building a wheelchair ramp at someone’s house; cleaning yards and doing housework for those who aren’t able; writing letters to soldiers, missionaries and prisoners to encourage them and tell them they are loved; working on playgrounds at some of the elementary schools; and helping with maintenance work at nonprofit agencies.
Church members are still looking for service projects, but there are some stipulations. It must be a project that can be done in one day, must take about two to five hours and already be funded.
Church members are also encouraging others to participate in the day or help fund a project. There will be a project for everyone to participate in, no matter what age or ability. To suggest a project or volunteer, go to servewhtifield.com.
But the day of service is just the beginning. Participants hope to build lasting relationships and partner with people and organizations to continue service in the community.
“We want to change the perception of our community that we’re a caring, sharing church,” said Cindy Ray, who along with her husband Todd are coordinating the day of service. “We want to share our talents.
“Kenny’s challenging us to find ways to reach beyond the walls, to be the hands and feet of Jesus,” she said. “Everyone knows someone who needs help. ... It’s a tangible way, we are reaching out to the community with real love.”
Ott hopes people realize the Methodist church is invested in its community.
“We care,” he said. “Jesus says we’re supposed to be a light in the community and salt to the world. I ask myself, ‘If we close our doors would anyone notice?’
“I think a lot of people look at religion and say you talk about love, but you don’t live it out,” he said. “Faith should make a difference. If not, it really is the opiate of the masses.”
This isn’t the first outreach the church has done. In previous years, during the season of Lent — where people typically fast or give up a luxury item to help them focus more on God — Ott encouraged church members to give instead of “give up.”
Church members did random acts of kindness, such as paying for a stranger’s meal in a restaurant.
They’ve also “bought down” gas prices at one gas station for several hours close to Christmas. Often times, they’ve been able to lower gas by 50 cents a gallon, and they pump gas for customers.
“I think this is the new form of evangelism,” Ott said. “This generation wants to know their life is making a difference. They like to feel like they’ve made friends and they’ve made a difference.
“Worship isn’t what we do on a Sunday,” he said. “Worship is a way of life.”
Ott hopes other churches will be involved in “Don’t go to Church. Be the Church!”
“My vision is for others to join us,” he said. “My vision is to see every church in Whitfield County do this.”
The service day will end with a program at 6 p.m. at the Dalton Green. The Christian band Calling Glory will lead music that night, and the church’s praise band and choir will perform. Everyone is invited to attend, even if they didn’t participate in the service projects.