Last summer, Nick Cleveland, senior pastor of Grace Church, a Grace Brethren congregation in Wooster, Ohio, experienced a house fire at his family’s home. Though it was a devastating event for the Cleveland family, God used the tragedy to help connect the church to a unique ministry in the community called Sound the Alarm, where volunteers from the church teamed with the Red Cross to install 69 smoke alarms in the houses of more than 28 families this past June.
This opportunity wouldn’t have been possible, however, without an already sturdy foundation of outreach from the Grace Church family, particularly through an initiative dubbed #ForWayneCounty.
“The initiative was established as ‘a movement of people helping people’ a few years ago by our church to show our community that God is for them and so are we,” said Jake Lawson, Next Steps Coordinator at Grace Church. But what makes this initiative unique is that the program aims to not just reach out to members of the community to meet their needs – it also intentionally connects with other organizations that are already in tune with the needs of the surrounding community.
“Basically #ForWayneCounty is what most churches would consider their local community outreach, but we try to think of it with a bigger vision in mind –a focus not just on rallying our church but rallying our entire community together,” said Carlin Tiano, another coordinator of Next Steps at Grace Church, who helped oversee the project.
“We’re #ForWayneCounty because God is for Wayne County. It’s a grassroots movement, and we are trying to lead by example and encourage the type of care shown by the early church in Acts 2 towards others. We want to “gain the favor of all the people” (Acts 2:47). We all love the community we live in, so we want to invite the people who live here to join us in simply helping make it better together. Let’s make it about our community, and use it as an opportunity to connect them back to Jesus,” Tiano said.
Over the last three years, the movement has already joined up with existing opportunities such as caring for teachers through care packages, first responder meals, helping to build and clean homes for families in need, an angel tree, fighting local food insecurity, and a back-to-school shoe drive — each with their own tremendous stories of how God worked to bring together the community and the church to reach out to those in need. In the case of the Sound the Alarm project, the house fire gave the Clevelands a chance to connect with the first responder firefighters, which led to more opportunities for collaboration.
“All of the sudden you’re talking with these guys on a regular basis through the process of what’s happened with your home,” Tiano said. “God used that to allowed the Clevelands to begin a relationship, which then extended for our whole church to care for and thank first responders, and join in on what they are doing.”
Tiano said doing it that way allows their ministry outreach to become multi-dimensional, and ultimately can be a much more effective witness for Christ.
“It goes back to building partnerships with people,” he noted. “If we can get alongside people in the community who are doing the work of meeting needs, then those are the people we want to talk to.
“You find a niche that you all enjoy doing… put your heart into it and care for the people that are running it, and watch what cool things will happen for the sake of the kingdom.”
Click here to send Carlin and the rest of the #ForWayneCounty team a note of encouragement and to find out how you can pray for their ministry.