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“It means a daily commitment from churches and individuals to connect mercy ministries with missional living in support of church planting and church strengthening. Ultimately, it’s about integrating the Great Commandments of Christ in Matthew 22:36-40— to love God and love others.”

Modeling God’s love for widows, orphans, foreigners and the poor, reminiscent of Zechariah 7:10, Pastor Dennis Watson describes Celebration Church as “compassion focused.”

“Most of our current church attendees are people who have been won to faith in Christ through our compassion ministry efforts following Katrina,” says Watson. Hurricane Katrina in 2005 permanently displaced 60 percent of Celebration’s congregation, plunging weekly attendance from 2,500 to 800, Watson says. He now counts weekly attendance at 4,000, higher than pre-Katrina numbers.

“We have rebuilt our congregation through compassion ministry,” he says.

David Crosby, pastor of First Baptist New Orleans, calls it the “Care Effect,” pointing to a three-pronged benefit of compassion ministry blessing the giver, the recipient and the community.

“Jesus said it’s more blessed to give than receive,” Crosby says. “We believe that compassion is essential, not optional. When the church fails to be a people of compassion and caring, we actually cut the legs out from under the gospel. We authenticate the good news of the gospel by loving those in trouble.”

Baptist Friendship House, Celebration Church, First Baptist and Franklin Avenue Baptist Church, among many others, are busy modeling the love of Christ in ministries improving the lives of the neglected: the homeless, the hungry, the poor, the elderly, the sick, the fatherless and the vulnerable. Each ministry uses available resources within its reach to affect various populations in need. Ministries range from the sophisticated to the seemingly simple; some utilizing hundreds of thousands in funding, others done for the cost of a prayer.

Fred Luter began reaching the men in the community at the beginning of his pastorate at Franklin Avenue Baptist Church by hosting gatherings at his home for up to 25 men to watch pay-per-view boxing matches.

“That was one of the hooks we used to get guys to the church,” he says. “The guys love sporting events.”

In those early days more than 20 years ago, Luter would not hand out any tracts or hold Bible study during the gatherings, but the sporting events drew the men to Sunday services, much to the delight of their wives.

“I just feel that if you save the man,” he says, “the man will save his family.”

More recently, since the construction of the church’s Family Life Center, sporting events include prayer. Basketball games break every 20 minutes for 10-to-15 minutes of prayer and devotion. “It’s amazing how that never was a problem for the men,” Luter says. “They wanted to play basketball. It was a pretty good way of reaching them.”

ON MISSION • Summer 2012 21

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