By Krista Petty
What kind of impact can the local church have on a school district and community organizations? How about an $800,000 budget boost! That’s just one of the benefits several local churches brought to the Boulder and St. Vrain Valley school districts in Colorado, June 8, 9. During one weekend, 18 independent and denominational churches—comprising 10 different faith groups—banded together to serve their local schools in an event called “Sharefest.”
Among those churches making significant impacts were Boulder Valley Christian Church, LifeBridge Christian Church, and Boulder Sharefest originator, Calvary Bible Church. Through maintenance, landscaping, and painting projects, these churches and 15 others blessed 10 schools and seven community organizations, saving them hundreds of thousands of dollars in labor costs. More than 2,500 people participated in the weekend of service that concluded on Sunday morning with a combined worship service and barbeque on the University of Colorado campus.
During the culminating worship event, school district officials, principals, and directors of nonprofit organizations received a standing ovation for their leadership. These same leaders then applauded the work of the audience of local church members for their tireless efforts to improve their schools and organizations.
One administrator said, “This is the type of thing that changes the world.” Another shared, “Long after the paint has faded the community will endure because of the work we’ve done together.”
Peace and Prosperity
When Calvary Bible Church started Sharefest four years ago, community outreach pastor Adrian Boykin says the church simply was looking to follow Jeremiah 29:7, “Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” The church saw serving at local schools as a natural way to seek peace and prosperity in their own community.
“There was a significant budget deficit in our school district. No matter how much we agreed or disagreed about the situation, we all agreed that future success—of our kids and kids in the community—hinged on the success of our schools,” Boykin said. After its first year of serving the schools, Calvary invited neighboring churches Boulder Valley Christian Church and Cornerstone Church to join in their Sharefest weekend.
This year church participation exploded with LifeBridge Christian Church in Longmont, Colorado, helping to expand well beyond the Boulder city limits by bringing additional schools and 500 more volunteers to the well-established Sharefest. “Through our ‘A Time to Serve’ programs at Christmastime and our yearlong work with the schools around Longmont, people in our church were already primed and ready to serve,” says Lisa Duran, LifeBridge community involvement coordinator. “Joining with the other churches for Sharefest was a great fit for us and the next step in our journey to be more externally focused as a church.”
Conversations between the collaborating churches began just after Christmas. “There are so many benefits to working with other churches like this,” Boykin says. “I now have friendships with other pastors in our community beyond getting together to pray. Working together really binds you together. When we choose to work together, I believe God rejoices.”
Along with benefits to the school and community, Sharefest organizers offered several reasons why serving schools and community groups together was beneficial for their congregations.
• It connected members together. “Along with serving our schools in need, we also wanted to give the entire church an opportunity to serve together—from age 5 to 80. There are very few organizations or recreation groups where you can bring 800 people of multiple generations to serve together like a school can,” Boykin says.
Duran agrees, “Serving like this gives our people an opportunity to get to know one another and even a chance to meet others for the first time. It helps connect our church body together.”
• It gave members a “kingdom” mind-set. “It’s helpful for our members and their ecclesiology,” Boykin says. “Are we trying to win people to Calvary, to LifeBridge, or Boulder Valley? Or is the goal to draw people into the kingdom of God? It’s healthy to remember that we are seeking the kingdom of God first and foremost.”
Along with helping members practice unity, church collaboration is an incredible demonstration to the watching world. “Our unity strengthens our witness to the community,” Duran says.
• It developed leaders. It takes a great amount of lay leadership to pull together multiple service projects at 17 different work sites. Each church had multiple site leaders and then a layer of specific project leaders. According to the Sharefest manual, site leaders offer 10 hours of project management a week for nearly eight weeks. As the Sharefest weekend draws closer, some offer as many as 20 hours or more.
Boykin believes some members are hungering for this level of commitment and leadership. “Some of our top leaders are bored,” he says. “Our typical church-serving opportunities, such as teaching, ushering, or greeting, may not be in line with their abilities or interests. Sharefest has given engineers, business leaders, and others an opportunity to use their leadership gifts for the church in new and exciting ways.”
• It helped individual gifts and passions to be used for God’s purposes. Does pulling weeds and laying sod have anything to do with God’s purposes? Duran thinks so. “At one school, we had a team landscaping. Several curious neighbors came out to see what was happening. In the course of conversation, they were impressed that local churches would give so much to their school. They even said they thought they could watch out for the school more—and make sure no more graffiti appeared!”
And every church has men and women like Bezalel and Oholiab, mentioned in Exodus 31 as being men of skill, ability, and knowledge in all kinds of crafts, and whom God filled with his Spirit for his purposes. Through the hands-on work of Sharefest, churches have been able to connect the skills and abilities of members to needs in the community. For example, artists from Calvary Bible Church have been able to accomplish several special mural requests at schools over the years.
At Frederick High School, the art tables were in poor shape and needed refinishing. LifeBridge project leaders connected Don Fesenmeyer, a custom cabinetmaker who attends the church, and in a couple of days, the entire art room received a face-lift and refinished tables. While Fesenmeyer normally works on custom kitchens and high-end home offices, he was able to use his skills to help the community and touch children’s lives. When the art teacher saw her room, she cried.
“That’s how powerful serving others can be,” Duran says. “It’s not just a job that gets done, or even money that’s saved. It’s about giving people a glimpse of light where there was once darkness.”
Krista Petty is a freelance writer and coach for externally focused churches. She lives in Johnstown, Colorado with her husband, Steve, and three children.