SNELLVILLE — Mount Zion Baptist Church opted to approach their traditional Fall Festival last November a bit differently and hosted a 5K and 1 Mile Fun Run along with the Fall Festival. The church registered 286 individuals for the “Run” on Nov. 1, which turned out to be an unusually cold and windy day, but 228 actually ran the race.
It was a race with a purpose, resulting in $4,000 being raised for the Amanda Riley Foundation, a non-profit entity that cares for children and families who have been struck with childhood cancer. Mount Zion has a special link with the Riley family because Amanda was a part of their student group as she battled and eventually died of childhood cancer.
The goal of the Amanda Riley Foundation is to do things to bring a smile to the faces of children while they are hospitalized. They hope to accomplish this by offering special items that will comfort and distract these children while receiving treatment.
Families with children battling cancer not only have their regular financial obligations, but also have to pay for lodging, meals, and medical expenses when their child is in the hospital. Much of the time there is not enough money for families to buy gifts for their children during the challenging days of hospitalization. The Amanda Riley Foundation provides gifts not only for children struggling with cancer but also their siblings.
We must be good news before we share the Good News.
Lead Pastor Jeff Gongwer observed, “Because of our changing culture, I sincerely believe that the church is going to be seen in a more negative light as the years go by because of our firm stand on cultural issues like traditional marriage. Instead of interpreting our convictions as being good for society, the culture will see us as bigoted hate-mongers. The media will ever increasingly see us as ‘haters.’ To combat this we must be good news before we share the Good News.
“Our church wants to love the community so we can earn the right to share our life-changing message. I would love to encourage churches to do what so many other churches are doing to reach the broader community with a Gospel-centered ministry.
“This was a great event that involved a large number of church members, community businesses, the Amanda Riley Foundation, and children from our church and our community who thoroughly enjoyed the fall festival environment. Despite the inclement weather, God did some amazing things. We registered guests and gave them information about our church and a Gospel tract.”
Joey Rolen, pastor of student ministries at Mount Zion, stated, “When the idea of a ‘race’ was announced to the church the initial reaction was ‘huh’? Once I had explained the concept to them, they began to understand what a 5K was. While we had several runners from our church, it was a fairly small percentage.
“But metro Atlanta is one of the largest and most active running communities in the country. Tens of thousands of people in our area participate in races, but there aren’t many in our immediate area. I only know of a few churches that put on races and none of them with a focus on outreach.
“Once we started casting the vision for the 5K, the church started getting on board with it. The closer the race got, the more excitement was in the community. Even though the day of the event was freezing cold with 25-mph winds, I had lots of members come to me wanting to do the event again.
“The run started on our property and went down the caution lane of Scenic Highway into a neighborhood and back. We had food at the finish line that was donated by several great sponsors. It was some of the best finisher’s food at any race in Atlanta. From there families could go into a fun zone with several inflatables. The new College Football Hall of Fame in downtown Atlanta sent out their community team with their mascot, Fumbles, and some free T-shirts.”
Rolen continued, “The 5K also gave our people some new opportunities to serve and use their gifts. Many were particularly glad to help a charity that was in our community.
“One of the awesome things about a race is that it isn’t just contained to one weekend. We challenged our people to invite co-workers, classmates, and neighbors to join them in training for the run. We had a few families to visit the church after attending the 5K. While we didn’t do an upfront Gospel presentation, we did challenge our people to use the event to present the Gospel to their lost friends.”
When churches establish credibility in a community like Mount Zion is doing in so many ways their message is no longer like sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal.
In fact, their message is not only heard, but received with joy.