‘Serve Day’ catches community’s attention

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TOPEKA, Kan. (BP) -- An outreach effort in Topeka, Kan., has utilized local media coverage to publicize the ministry of Kansas Baptists and to share the love of Christ in America's heartland.

The one-day ministry, called "Serve Day," is put on by the local Flint Hills Baptist Association. Each year churches that cooperate with the association join together to repair homes, install smoke alarms and meet other physical needs in the community. Laying a foundation for churches to share the Gospel is the ministry's first priority.

Doyle Pryor, pastor of First Southern Baptist Church in Topeka, said "free publicity" in The Topeka Capital-Journal helped extend Serve Day's reach and touched more people for Christ. The local paper published a feature article on the June 24 event including photos of neon-clad volunteers' organizing and doing landscaping work.

"We discovered [The Capital-Journal] wanted to know when we had events," Pryor said. "They are a newspaper; they [have] space to fill. The local papers especially are thankful for stories and we are thankful for the press. They are very friendly across the board. They report everything very well."

Sending out press releases may be helpful for churches who struggle to garner media coverage, Pryor said.

"Put a press release out that has all of the dates, facts, issues," Pryor said. "The best thing you can do and the friendliest thing you can do to have a chance of being published is" to ensure local journalists "don't have to do as much work on their end trying to hunt down stories."

While press coverage is helpful, impacting the community is the most important goal of Serve Day, said Randy Smith, pastor of another Baptist congregation that participated in the day of service.

"The benefit to the community is to heighten awareness of the local church, and it just generally encourages the people of the community to know that they're not alone and that there are people who care," said Smith, pastor of Lakeside Baptist Church in Silver Lake, Kan. "As far as the church's benefit, it helps you to think outside of the walls of your church. It is always good to serve."

Richard Taylor, director of missions for the Flint Hills Association, said church plants are an integral part of Serve Day. For instance, Centro Biblico El Camino in Topeka, a Hispanic church plant, partnered with neighboring True Life Baptist Church to host volunteers.

"We usually try to tie [Serve Day] with the church plants," Taylor said. "It's not just one church. All the churches in the association are invited to participate. We are all in this together. We are partners and we are helping each other. That's what it means to be an association."

The idea for a one-day outreach blitz originated when a pastor from Arkansas visited a Topeka-area Vacation Bible School and helped the association put on its first Serve Day. Volunteers swarmed a town of 200 people and established a tradition of serving different Kansas communities.

One benefit of Serve Day, Taylor said, is that volunteers don't have to take off as much vacation time like they would if they participated in longer mission trips.

Serve Day's success even connected the association with churches in Saskatchewan, Canada, showing them how to begin their own Serve Day, Taylor said.

"If there is an expansion, it is just by word of mouth from our churches about what a great experience it is," Taylor said. "The way to expand this is sharing it with other associations and seeing the impact it can have for the reputation of Baptist churches."

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