It's a risky move for many pastors but dozens of churches decided to cancel their weekend worship services and put their faith in action.
Pews were empty as Christians across the country wore their white and orange "Don't Go to Church. Be The Church" shirts in observance of Faith in Action Sunday on Oct. 11.
"The shirts make a statement that I think most Christians want to make – that we really do care about more than just what's happening in our building," said Shelly Langley of Cloudbreak Church in San Diego, Calif.
A collaborative effort between Outreach Inc. and World Vision, the annual campaign encourages churchgoers each year to shift their focus from themselves to others. Churches that have participated over the last several years testify that the campaign has helped moved their "inactive" members to become active and involved.
"Our Faith in Action campaign is helping us transform our congregation into a church that is motivated to help our community and strive to grow in Jesus' image," the Rev. Todd Lackie of Kenwood Church of Christ in Livonia, Mich., told the Observer & Eccentric Newspapers. "A church that puts its faith into action focuses not on itself, but living out Christ's teaching and his divine example of compassion."
Churches are already putting their faith in action – at least that's what many think, according to a recent poll.
Outreach and World Vision commissioned a national study to determine Christians' attitudes toward helping the poor and found that 67 percent of the more than 2,800 churchgoing adults surveyed believe their church is already doing enough to help the poor in their community.
But the national poverty line – currently at 12.3 percent, according to the United States Census Bureau – has remained relatively the same during the past five years.
Steve Haas, vice president for church relations at World Vision, says the information exposes a discrepancy between "Christians who believe they are doing enough and the reality that Christians are not doing enough to help our communities."
Faith in Action, he says, "is designed to be one step towards alleviating the complacency that is afflicting churches across the country, and an effective call to action to follow Christ's example of compassion."
It's a radical idea, however, for some.
Some are against the idea of closing church doors on Sunday. Christians are called not to neglect to meet together in a formal gathering for worship, as the Rev. Kevin DeYoung of University Reformed Church in East Lansing, Mich., states in his book, Why We Love the Church.
"Our gathering for worship is an exercise in covenant renewal, a weekly celebration of the resurrection, and a foretaste of the heavenly banquet to come," DeYoung says. "So, no, you can't stop going to church and still be the church."
But organizers of Faith in Action maintain that campaign participants are not canceling worship. Rather, they are "redefining it."
"Worship was never to be confined to a single time of a single day during the week but a whole body experience of faithful obedience to a risen Christ," Haas of World Vision has argued.
Still, acknowledging that there may be some protest, organizers have offered suggestions to such churches. They are encouraged to either serve on Sunday morning and then worship in the evening, or vice versa. Churchgoers may also choose to execute their Faith in Action project on Saturday and worship as they normally do on Sunday. The campaign cautions, however, that Saturday events generally draw fewer participants.