Most Americans believe their church is doing enough to help the poor but recorded increases in the national poverty level indicate that Christians are disconnected with the reality of people in need.
A national survey, released Monday, showed 67 percent of Americans – over half of whom attend church at least once a month – agreed or strongly agreed with the statement, "My church already does enough to help the poor in my community." Less than half (42 percent) said their church spends more money on itself than on the community.
But Steve Haas, vice president for church relations at World Vision, believes Christians are just "scratching the surface" when it comes to serving their communities.
Pointing to the latest U.S. Census Bureau statistics that show the national poverty level increased from 11.7 percent in 2001 to 13.3 percent in 2005, Haas highlighted the discrepancy between what Christians believe and what's really happening.
The reason for the disconnect, he says, is ignorance and a level of fear.
"The definition of outreach typically of the church is proclamation. [But] outreach is my reaching out in some form of compassion that could be listening or an act of service," Haas told The Christian Post. "Actions speak much louder than words."
Giving churches an impetus to take church outside the buildings, World Vision partnered with two other Christian organizations – Outreach and Zondervan – to launch Faith in Action two years ago. The campaign, which takes place on April 27 this year, invites churches to take a "time out" by closing their doors on Sunday and mobilizing on service projects within their communities.
Faith in Action encourages Christians on a Sunday morning "to break the routine which is heavily set on this 'being the church," said Haas. "That is a building in which we meet. The church is the people who are sitting in those pews. We're releasing them to go 'be the church.'"
The majority of survey respondents (60 percent) said they would support their church if it occasionally canceled traditional services to donate that time to help the poor. Sixty percent also said they would be more involved in helping the poor if they could do so with members of their church.
This year, over 300 churches have registered to close their church doors and serve their community Sunday morning. But not all churches have welcomed the idea.
"Where's the Gospel? When are you going to share the Good News of Jesus?" some have asked.
Haas finds such critical questions laughable, noting that when hundreds of churchgoers descend onto a community to clean up or feed the poor for hours, someone is bound to ask where they came from and why they're there.
"At that point, the church can share 'I've been loved by an eternal lover who cared enough for me. My greatest response is to meet someone else in their time of need.'" said Haas. "The door's wide open," Haas said, to share the Gospel.
Responding to critics, Haas commented, "The importance isn't shuttering the doors on Sunday. If people get wrapped up in that, they missed the reason for the exercise. It's being church to their community. The meaning of that isn't lost on Sunday."
While doors close Sunday morning, congregants come together that night after a day of helping their community for a celebration service.
Haas says evangelism is both the proclamation of the Gospel and responding to human need. Neither can be neglected for the other.
Without "faith in action," faith stagnates, Haas noted. And with more churches hopping on board to help the needy, Haas believes the Gospel is being proclaimed in bigger ways.
"What we're excited about is the church is coming alive because they realized the robust expanding nature of the Good News of Christ."
The survey was conducted on behalf of Faith in Action on Feb. 14-18 among 2,853 adults ages 18 and older, of whom, 1,703 ever attend religious services at a church.