Phillip Griffin had an idea — or what some might call more of an inspiration.
The Men’s Sunday School teacher felt led by God to spend time outside of his church’s four walls on Sunday mornings. But not away from the church — on the church property itself.
For one hour every Sunday morning from 9:45 to 10:45 for the last three months, weather permitting, Griffin has sat in a lawn chair at the intersection of 82nd and Cornell on the lawn Faith Tabernacle Baptist Church on Chicago’s southeast side, waving and praying for people as they drive by. And, when given the opportunity, he’ll even pray with them.
‘Stop to Pray/Stop for Prayer’
Often, the drivers offer him a smile and a wave, or sometimes a honk from their car horn, as he holds up a sign reading, “Stop to Pray/Stop for Prayer.”
“I really wanted to let people know we [the church] were here for them,” explained Griffin about why he’s embarked on this campaign.
“Even if nobody comes it’s gratifying,” he said. “I do a lot of waving, they wave back. Sometimes speak. I recently got the sign which has let them know what’s going on.”
Before the sign was printed, curious drivers would sometimes lower their windows and ask him why he was sitting next to the street.
‘A little pushback’
Chicago’s southeast side, like the rest of the city, has experienced a wave of crime and violence in recent years which has set some nerves on edge. When Griffin first broached the idea of teaching his Sunday school class outside, he said he received “a little pushback” from the class’s usual six to 10 participants.
“Living in the city, people were skeptical about it,” said Griffin who has been attending the church for a decade and teaching the class for eight months.
“God sees us and loves us. We don’t have to worry,” he said.
But now class members will join him as they can for roadside fellowship and prayer.
The church’s pastor, Donald Sharp, said he’s encouraged to see the men in his church reaching out to the community.
“We tend to feel very comfortable within our own four walls,” Sharp shared. “We come to church expecting the service to meet our needs but do not expect to meet the needs outside the four walls.”
He believes it’s important for the local community to know the church is there for them and cares.
“I sometimes ask, ‘If we as the church were to disappear, would the neighborhood even miss us?’” he noted.
In current church culture there’s a lack of male involvement. Sharp said his church is no different and that it’s “important to have male upfront involvement.”
He noted that there can sometimes be a “reluctance for men to display or exhibit a sense of involvement with witnessing,” which is why he’s excited to see Griffin’s effort.
Taking their witness seriously
The entire church is taking their witness public on Sunday, Aug. 6, when it’s erecting a large tent to hold outdoor worship services “because Jesus commanded us to say, we’re here,” said Sharp.
“Jesus commanded us to be out sharing and bringing the gospel to people.”
By hosting an outdoor service and inviting the neighborhood, the pastor said, “As the church we are demonstrating and putting on display who we are as a fellowship of believers in Jesus.”
“We’re an older congregation,” noted Sharp, “but you don’t have to be super saints to share the gospel. Or, to ask someone to let you pray for them. It’s about daring to take a stand and putting your faith to practice.”
‘Don’t be afraid’
To others who might be interested in starting a similar outdoor prayer ministry, Griffin offers this advice, “Don’t be afraid. Let the naysayers say what they’re saying. Just do what God wants you to do.”
In the meantime, Griffin said he will “continue to pray and ask for God for direction” in how to continue his outreach.
He doesn’t know what seeds are being planted through his Sunday morning lawn chair ministry.
But he does know, “It feels good to let people know we are here to pray for them.”