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Where would Americans be if churches didn’t make outreach a priority? Many would feel the pain of unmet needs for basics such as food and clothing, not to mention a slow-down in disaster recovery efforts. For many hardest hit by Hurricane Sandy, it was churches that provided the first signs of relief. In fact, a new survey —Outlook for Outreach — shows that of the 58% of churches in America that provide hands-on assistance for causes throughout our country, 75% of them engage in national disaster relief efforts. To better quantify how churches engage in outreach ministries to provide for physical needs within their local communities and the world at large, Christianity Today (CT) and Brotherhood Mutual Insurance Company (BMIC) recently conducted the joint nationalOutlook for Outreach study. Responses collected during the summer of 2012 from 1,486 church leaders and volunteers involved in outreach reveal that nearly all churches (96%) are serving those in their local community, especially in feeding and clothing the poor. Results show that churches meet — and even exceed — the need for food and clothing at the local level, however, they’re providing less hands-on assistance in addressing unemployment and preventing crime and gang-related violence than the perceived need. Along with providing disaster relief, more than half of the churches send teams on in-country mission trips (54%) and are engaged in housing construction projects. Churches are involved in international outreach efforts (70%). Fully 60% of them fund building projects overseas, including homes, churches, schools, medical clinics, and orphanages, and 53% travel abroad to physically assist with the construction work. Nine in ten churches allow other organizations to use their facility for outreach programs, so churches are opening their doors for others to serve too. The survey also shows that churches are taking care to select suitable volunteers and provide adequate training before doing hands-on ministry. “Churches engage in all kinds of outreach efforts,” says Dave Lantz, vice president, claims, Brotherhood Mutual Insurance Company. “Church leaders need to be aware of the risks associated with outreach and recognize the importance of managing those risks. It’s encouraging that many are already taking steps to minimize them.” The majority of churches say that finding enough funding and volunteers are the two biggest obstacles to doing outreach locally, nationally, and internationally. At the same time, 41% of churches report that volunteerism is up for outreach ministries, and nearly half (45%) expect their church budget for outreach to increase in the coming year. According to 62% of respondents, the number one result of serving others is a sense of maturing discipleship among those involved. Another added benefit: more than one-third (35%) of the respondents say that more previously unchurched people now attend their church as a result of their outreach efforts. “Outreach and compassion are important hallmarks of church life,” said Marshall Shelley, editorial vice president of Christianity Today. “The results of this study show the high percentage of churches and church members that are involved in serving their neighbors locally, nationally, and internationally. If faith must be exercised to remain healthy, then most churches see outreach as the fitness center for faith.” An executive summary of the survey findings is available and at What is YOUR church determined to do in 2013 that you’ve never done before?
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Check out this from Christianity Today… When church violence does happen… here are the reasons: 28%  Personal Conflict 27%  Random Act of Violence 19%  Roberry 17%  Intimate Partner Violence 10% Gang related. Other interesting tidbit: 47% of violence happens during a church service.  53% happens during ‘off-hours’.  (That means you have to be prepared at ALL times). You can view the full pdf here.

OK… cut me some slack… it’s really difficult to create a headline with the words ‘vagina’ and ‘LifeWay’ in such close proximity. It’s the best I could do. But have you been following the controversy involving Rachel Held Evan’s new book “A Year of Biblical Womanhood” and Lifeway? There have been a ton of internet stories about LifeWay’s decision NOT to carry the book in their retail stores.  (This, for a Christian author, is a MAJOR blow… since LifeWay is the largest Christian retail outlet in the country.) Anyway… it all started with a blog post a long while back from Rachel about how her publisher (Thomas Nelson) wanted her to take the word ‘vagina’ out of her book so it would have a better chance to be sold in stores such as LifeWay. Evans refused. And LifeWay is not carrying the book. But LifeWay says it’s not because of the word ‘vagina’.  In fact, I’m not sure that LifeWay has given a reason as to why they are not carrying the book. So… bloggers being who they are, have categorized this as ‘vagina-gate’. In fact, some fact-checking by our good friends at Christianity Today has broken the news that LifeWay currently sells books that have multiple references to the word. To prove their point, here’s part of their findings: A Celebration of Sex: A Guide to Enjoying God’s Gift of Sexual Intimacy by Douglas E. Rosenau 86 (plus images) The Gift of Sex: A Guide to Sexual Fulfillment by Clifford & Joyce Penner 73 (plus images) The Act of Marriage: The Beauty of Sexual Love by Tim and Beverley LaHaye 62 How to Talk Confidently with Your Child about Sex by Lenore Buth 42 The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex (And You Thought Bad Girls Have All the Fun) by Sheila Wray Gregoire 19 The Body Book by Nancy Rue 6 (at least in the 2000 edition; LifeWay’s is the 2012 edition and was not available for review) Straight Talk with Your Kids About Sex by Josh and Dottie McDowell 6 And there are at least 14 more! My questions: 1.  Whose job was it to scour the list above and count the number of times vaginas are being referenced? 2.  How much does that job pay? 3.  How does LifeWay make their decisions on what to and what not to sell? 4.  I wonder… how much scuttlebutt will there be in SBC circles now that this list has been published to have ALL of these books banned from LifeWay stores. 5.  It’s been nearly 13 years since Tim & Beverly LaHaye’s erotic thriller “The Act of Marriage” came out.  It referenced ‘vagina’ 62 times in ways that still make Mark Driscoll blush.  I haven’t read Rachel’s book, but can’t imagine that it is quite as graphic as a couple of passages I remember reading in the LaHaye’s book years ago.  Why the seeming double standard? In the end… I really don’t care.  And in fact, I think it’s rather silly. I feel bad for Rachel that her book is missing some shelf space.  And I feel bad for LifeWay that they’re getting bad press (but they knew it had to be coming when they refused to carry the book and give their reasoning.) I’m sure this quote from Rachel didn’t help matters any: “I don’t know if they were more offended by my vagina or my brain,” she says with a laugh. “The only thing I know is that my editor said, if you leave this word in, there’s a good chance LifeWay won’t carry it.” — Slate Quick.  Someone call A. Larry Ross.  Your services are needed. Your thoughts? More here. Todd