More than a thousand United Methodist churches have begun to "change the world" through radical service this weekend.
The April 24-25 initiative is intended to get the nearly 8 million-member denomination out from the pews and into local and global communities where they can make an impact.
"Change the World challenges the people of The United Methodist Church to see the world holistically by giving and serving beyond the four walls of sanctuaries and Sunday school classrooms," said the Rev. Larry Hollon, chief executive of United Methodist Communications. "Our hope is that not only will church members participate, they will invite neighbors in the community to work side-by-side with them to make a sustainable difference in diverse ways."
UMC members have already begun to clean parks, raise funds for the needy, including those affected by the January earthquake in Haiti, offer free mammograms for women, and feed the homeless, among dozens of other service acts.
Many are also engaging in malaria initiatives as the "Change the World" event coincides with World Malaria Day on Sunday.
Youth groups across the country are camping out under bed nets to show their commitment to ending malaria deaths in Africa.
Hollon commented, "We all want to see change in the world and by serving our local communities, we get to see that change up close and personal. But we can also touch those we do not see and may never meet. By raising awareness and funds, we can save lives and conquer malaria – a disease that the U.S. has already defeated," according to the United Methodist News Service.
The weekend initiative was inspired by the Rev. Mike Slaughter, lead pastor at Ginghamsburg Church in Tipp City, Ohio, and author of Change the World: Recovering the Mission and Message of Jesus.
Slaughter offered, "The way we love is by serving people especially the poor and marginalized.
"The church in the world needs the reputation of being a community that helps people . . . a community of people that gives hope and that functions as salt and light in its neighborhood.
Change the World is part of UMC's larger Rethink Church campaign, which was launched a year ago. Rethink Church challenges Christians to be more outwardly focused and engaged in the world and helps them reassess what it means to be people of faith.
"We've been trying to rethink church for several years – even before the current campaign started," the Rev. Dan Peil, pastor of Elk City United Methodist Church, Elk City, Okla., told the denomination's news service. "Change the World gives us one more chance to do that."