Spokane Churches Find Unique Ways to Reach Community

January 28, 2015 | Jay Wintermeyer

What do you get when you combine nine churches, willing hands, buses, billboards and community outreach and then bake them for more than two years with Holy Spirit power? In Spokane, Wash., you get the Jesus Cares campaign.

Adventist churches in Spokane spent more than two years of planning and laying ground work for a major citywide evangelism campaign that wrapped up this past November. It all started in the fall of 2012 with a meeting of area Adventist pastors. 

The pastors met with a specific question in mind: “How do we effectively reach out to our community and give people the opportunity to meet Jesus Christ?” 

It had been more than two decades since an areawide outreach effort had been made by Adventists in Spokane. So the pastors discussed ways to reach out together to residents of Spokane and the surrounding communities.

Out of these discussions, a plan was formed that came to be known as the Jesus Cares campaign. The campaign was made up of three main components: awareness, outreach and evangelistic events. 

For the awareness portion of the campaign, Adventist pastors in Spokane decided to share a message of value with the community. “Everyone longs to be important to someone,” said Dale Leamon, who pastored the Spokane Central Church. “Telling people they matter to Jesus connects with that deep desire.”  

And that’s exactly what Spokane Adventists proceeded to do. For two years, local members used 54 city buses and 20 billboards plus websites and social media to tell their neighbors they mattered to Jesus.

“When we weren’t promoting specific campaign events,” says Gerald Haeger, Upper Columbia Conference evangelism director, “we shared several messages of value.” 

The buses and billboards not only caught the attention of many Spokane residents, they generated goodwill and expressions of thanks from many in the community. 

The second component of the campaign centered around community outreach. Thanks to two major donations, Upper Columbia Conference was able to employ the help of a coordinator of urban ministries to facilitate community outreach and involvement. The new coordinator connects members with a wide array of opportunities to serve and to touch lives.

“I’m reminded of what Ellen White urged years ago,” says Patty Marsh, Upper Columbia Conference community services director. “‘It is through the social relations that Christianity comes in contact with the world.’ We need to put ourselves where we ‘will come in direct contact with those needing help.’”

“Our larger cities especially offer many areas for members to use their gifts in service,” Marsh continues. “It is such a blessing to have Rhonda Whitney serving as coordinator of urban ministries for Spokane and Kootenai counties.” 

The main events the churches put on formed the final piece of the Jesus Cares campaign. The campaign featured two main events crafted to give people the opportunity to meet Jesus. The first was an Islam and Christianity seminar with Tim Roosenberg held in the winter of 2014. This event caught the eye of many in the community and generated a good amount of conversation. Many who attended were blessed.

The final event was a traditional evangelistic event, Rethink Prophecy, that was held in every Spokane church. The Rethink Prophecy meetings wrapped up in mid-November 2014 with a citywide crusade by international speaker David Asscherick. 

The Jesus Cares campaign generated about 175 direct interests overall. Area pastors had hoped for larger numbers, but these early tallies don’t tell the entire story. 

“I’m hopeful,” says Gerald Haeger, Upper Columbia Conference ministerial director. “We have more potential resources available to us now for Spokane than we’ve had in decades. I’m praying that what we’ve done so far has laid the foundation for what’s to come. We’re not done.”

Even though initial numbers of baptisms have been lower than hoped, there are other more positive results from the campaign. One happy note was reported by students from SOULS Northwest while canvassing Spokane during the summer of 2014. The literature evangelist students discovered people in Spokane were far more receptive and welcoming to door-to-door visits from Adventist young people than in any other Upper Columbia Conference city canvassed. 

Another bright spot from the campaign is that it has put Adventists in the community spotlight. Now that the Adventist name is familiar and Adventists are more actively involved with community projects, Adventists are being sought out for leading roles in Spokane. Increasingly Adventists are asked to serve in a variety of venues in Spokane — in education, disaster preparedness and response, homelessness, community drug prevention, eldercare programs, city councils, and more.  

When asked about this increased visibility and involvement, Marsh says, “As we serve and mingle, wonderful opportunities emerge, not only to change lives for the better but to meet new friends. I believe intelligently and unselfishly serving is an expectation Jesus has for His people as they face the daunting tasks of reaching our cities for Him.