Side Door

By Rev. Ron McClung

What do a biker ministry, a free community barbecue, and an Easter service on the beach all have in common? They are “side door” ministries of churches in the Pacific Southwest District. Every church has front door ministries such as worship services and Sunday school on the church property. Side door ministries are different. According to Dr. Charles Arn, author of the book, Side Door: How to Open Your Church to Reach More People, a side door is “a church-sponsored group or activity in which a new contact can become comfortably involved with the church on a regular basis.” Usually they meet somewhere besides the main church campus.

Apache Junction

Apache Junction Christian Community Church, a new Wesleyan congregation near Phoenix, Arizona, is in a suburb of approximately 40,000. Beginning with a handful of people in 2011, Pastors Bob and Sandy Lenz determined they had to get out into the community. He joined the Chamber of Commerce, which opened doors for him to offer prayer at local meetings and even at the state legislature.

One of the first outreaches was vacation Bible school. They began to see children and parents coming to services. A major idea for them was “barbecue to go.” They packed up tables, food, grills, and guitars, taking free meals, music, and kids’ games into neighborhoods. The barbecues became a way to build relationships and trust. Though the meals were free, one person gave $100, saying, “I love this. Keep these going, and keep helping people.”

At about the same time, a sister congregation, Faith Legacy Church of Sacramento, Calif., gave them a tremendous boost by doing a “monster makeover” of Apache Junction’s church facilities. Pastor Sandy Lenz has a heart for those with twelve-step needs and began Celebrate Recovery on Thursday nights in 2011. Dr. Kristen Bishop, a medical doctor, started a side door ministry at her practice to help local Christian business owners operate their businesses more like ministries. She coaches them to focus on biblical principles that build the kingdom of God and even lead people to Christ.

New people come to church every Sunday because of these side door ministries !

At every community event where it is possible, the church sets up a booth with give-aways and information or gets involved in other ways. They provide a clothes closet and offer free clothing, shoes, toys, and more. Every holiday, even Christmas, the church is open for food and fellowship. Fifty community volunteers assist with holiday meals. “It’s not just about feeding people,” Pastor Bob declared. “It’s about getting people to the cross.”

New people come to the church every Sunday because of all these. The handful has grown to a solid hundred. The Side Door book became a guide to the way Bob leads the church. A “dream team” continues to strategize and discover new interests that could connect members with more new people. To emphasize the idea of side doors, the church even added doors to the side walls of the sanctuary with the words “Friends,” “Love,” and “Laugh” on them.

Full Throttle

Back in Arizona, another side door ministry is growing at “full throttle.” Pastor Dave and Kim Dahlberg have enjoyed riding motorcycles most of their lives.

When they arrived in Tucson in 2005 to pastor Christian Faith Fellowship, a Wesleyan congregation, nobody else in their church had a motorcycle. So they prayed to find the right people to ride with and began to meet other bikers. After a time, however, it seemed to Pastor Dave that the Lord was gently saying: “You’ve been riding motorcycles for yourselves. Now I want you to do it for me.”

They began a ministry on Columbus Day weekend, the beginning of biker season (summer is too hot!), and called it the “Blessing of the Bikers.” Not wanting bikers to think of it just as a good luck charm that might keep them safer on the road, Pastor Dave emphasizes a deeper commitment to Christ.

The main event, held on a Sunday evening, has come to include biker rodeo games, rock climbing, mechanical bull ride, and free food. The first year only attracted 17 bikes, but by October 2013, the eighth year, 122 motorcycles were present with 550 people in attendance.

For the Blessing of the Bikers, all the riders assemble in three columns. As each row of three riders pulls forward, Pastor Dave and staff members pray a blessing over each bike and biker, not only for safety on the road, but for a real connection with God.

The motorcycle ministry, called Full Throttle, is larger than one weekend. They hold rides on the fourth Saturday of each month. This is an opportunity to connect with people and build relationships, and every so often, the ride becomes a “prayer ride.” They have ridden as far as 200 miles to pray over a particular pastor, a church, and a community. There are about forty motorcyclists in the congregation now.