Evangelism award recipient says churches just have to ‘step through the door’

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Evangelism award recipient says churches just have to ‘step through the door’

Sept. 16, 2008  News media contact: Tita Parham*
tparham@flumc.org  Orlando {0911}

An e-Review Feature
By J.A. Buchholz**

Michelle Factor doesn’t consider herself an “evangelistic” person, but that didn’t stop her from trying to connect with people in the community surrounding her church.

Michelle Factor received the 2008 Harry Denman Evangelism Award for laity for her efforts to connect with children and families in the neighbor surrounding her church, Killearn Lakes United Methodist Church in Tallahassee. Photo courtesy of Killearn Lakes United Methodist Church. Photo #08-0991. Web photo only.

That commitment to reaching children and families living near Killearn Lakes United Methodist Church in Tallahassee earned her the 2008 Harry Denman Evangelism Award.

The annual award is named for the late Dr. Henry Denman, a distinguished lay evangelist, and sponsored by The Foundation for Evangelism, which was begun in 1949 by Denman.

The Foundation invites each United Methodist annual conference to present this award annually to a United Methodist lay member and clergyperson who has exhibited unusual and outstanding effectiveness in evangelism by faithfully carrying out the mission of “making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” Florida Conference recipients are announced each year at the Florida Annual Conference by the conference’s Congregational Transformation office.

Factor said she began to feel the call to evangelism about five years ago when she led her church’s evangelism team. Factor worked with the area’s homeowner’s association to establish an annual Easter egg hunt and back-to-school event to go along with the church’s existing Vacation Bible School program, which was revamped to appeal to children and youth outside the church walls.

Factor said she isn’t sure evangelizing comes easy to anyone. What prompted her to act was the realization her church wasn’t tapping into its community with existing programs — it was “too inward-focused.”

“I know that every church is put where it is for a reason,” she said. “I asked myself if the church were to cease to exist, would we be missed? Truthfully, the answer would have been no, and I knew we could change that. I knew that we could never change that unless we began to know our neighbors.”

Factor began inviting people to church and the annual events targeting children and their families. She also used her work as president of the local Parent Teacher Organization to help change the perception people had of the church. As church members began to see the change, she said, they became more receptive to the idea of reaching out to people in the church’s neighborhood.

Factor took her evangelism ideas to the administrative council committee and lobbied that more funds be allocated to outreach. The budget for weekly coffee and doughnuts was higher than the annual $100 evangelism budget, according to the Rev. Jeremy Rebman, the church’s pastor. He says Factor kept asking if it was more important for the church to be “growing waistlines than disciples of Jesus Christ.”

Rebman said entire families are beginning to know Christ and attend the church for the first time because of Factor’s work in lifting up the value of evangelism, organizing community outreach events and creating publicity for the church. He credits Factor as playing a significant role in helping the church receive 29 people on profession of faith in 2007 and increase average worship attendance by 30 percent or 98 people.

The Rev. Jeremy Rebman, pastor of Killearn Lakes United Methodist Church in Tallahassee, credits lay member Michelle Factor as playing a significant role in helping the church receive 29 people on profession of faith in 2007 and increase average worship attendance by 30 percent. Photo courtesy of Killearn Lakes United Methodist Church. Photo #08-0992. Web photo only.

Rebman, who has been at the church for more than three years, said Factor deserves the award. He said she helped church leaders recognize the family-filled community as their “mission field,” and they hired Factor to be the church’s first director of children’s ministries.
Rebman said participation in the children’s ministry more than doubled in the first year and has seen consistent growth ever since.

“She, along with some other people at the church, started looking outside the church for ways to be in ministry,” Rebman said. “They laid the groundwork, and now other church members are excited for the new people we are reaching.”

As director of children’s ministry, Rebman said Factor has helped many children make a first-time commitment to Christ. He said she approaches her ministry not as if she is running a program, but looking for opportunities to share the Gospel with as many people as possible.

Factor says ministering to people around the church is as important as focusing on global missions.

“There are ministry opportunities available in communities surrounding churches,” she said. “All missions are important. I’m not trying to take anything away from global missions, but people should take a hard look at where they are located and minister to those (around) the church.”

A church can fulfill its purpose if it reaches out and gets to know its neighbors, Factor said. And she says evangelism doesn’t have to be a scary thing if people take it one step at a time, by just inviting people to the church for activities related to their needs.

“It’s exciting for our church to be having this effect,” Factor said. “They only thing we had to do was step through the door.”


*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Buchholz is a freelance writer based in Seffner, Fla.

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