Interview by V. Michelle Bernard
In Grace Outlet, Kris Eckenroth, lead pastor of the Pennsylvania Conference’s Grace Outlet in Reading, shares lessons learned and the story of Grace Outlet, a church plant that strives to dispense the unmerited favor of God. Read our interview with Eckenroth below:
Visitor: What made you want to start Grace Outlet?
Eckenroth: While working as the Young Adult Ministries director for the Pennsylvania Conference, I became keenly aware of the fact that there were very few places where there was a space, primarily for the young adult demographic, where meaningful relationships, heartfelt worship and missional community service was the norm and not the exception.
Not to say that these characteristics were totally absent but to say that these characteristics didn't seem to be the culture that existed within the church body and was exemplified on a week to week basis.
Because of this, we were seeing our young adults exit our churches in mass.
Visitor: How has focusing on serving the community helped you bring back former/non-active Adventists back to the church?
Eckenroth: Our community outreach has provided spaces where we can invite and involve non-attending folks even before they are ready to "go back to church." Throughout the years we have had many folks begin their re-connection through involvement in outreach. To this day we have people who have not yet attended a worship service, but never miss their opportunity to serve on a weekly basis. We consider these people part of our church family. And they know it.
Visitor: Why do you think it is sometimes hard to share the unmerited favor of God? What can we do to start practicing this?
We can only share what we have received and experienced for ourselves. Jesus told His disciples, "Freely you have been given, freely give." Sometimes grace is understood theoretically and not through personal experience. We have found that when righteousness by faith in the blood of Jesus is understood and experienced in the personal life, it is then that the follow of Jesus is excited and anxious to share with others.
One way churches can start to practice sharing the unmerited favor of God (GRACE) is to create a space and time each Sabbath to do it. One way we have done this is by inviting all the attendees of the weekly worship service to bring a sack lunch. By the time the service starts there is a huge pile of lunches in the front of the worship area. After the service all are invited to join us as we head downtown to hand them out to whomever needs or wants one.
These lunches end up in the hands of the homeless, addicted, half-way house residents, and others who simply forgot their lunch on the counter at home. We often get the question, "Why are you doing this? What do you want?" Our reply, "Jesus loves you and so do we! We want nothing other than for you to be full." You can't imagine how this opens up the flood gates for meaningful conversations, testimony, and prayer.
Order Grace Outlet: Creating Churches that Dispence the Unmerited Favor of God through AdventSource.