Engaging Native Americans
From a packed auditorium, members and guests at Oklahoma City, Glorieta’s Native American Christmas Story, watch intently as tribal chiefs portray the Wise Men and the shepherds are seen as hunters.
It’s the Christmas story like you’ve never seen it before as all of the participants are meticulously dressed in Native American costumes.
This is one of the more popular outreach activities the church, which is 90 percent Native American, does to reach out to the community and bring lost people into the fold.
“We’ve totally reinvented the church since I’ve been here,” said Pastor Emerson Falls.
Since Falls became pastor some five years ago, the church has moved its second Sunday service from 6 to 2 p.m. and changed it from a worship service to a time of discipleship training; has changed from a traditional style of worship to a blended style using a praise team; changed from Sunday School to small groups; has become a staff-led rather than pastor-led church, and is intentional about getting outside the walls of the church.
Falls grew up just a few miles from the church where he now serves as pastor. After graduating from the University of Central Oklahoma, he worked as a hospital administrator for Indian Health Services in Oklahoma. After being called to the ministry, he earned two degrees from Golden Gate Seminary, and served as pastor in California, Arizona and Colorado before returning “home.”
At the 2008 Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma annual meeting, Falls was elected president of the convention, the first Native American to serve in that post.
“I agreed to be nominated if the nomination speech had no emphasis on me being Native American,” Falls said. “I believe we live in a time when people, regardless of ethnicity can serve in leadership positions. We were not trying to elect a Native American president, but a qualified person who happens to be Native American.”
Falls said the most important thing his church does is emphasize prayer.
“Whatever we do comes out of a dynamic realtionship to God,” he said. “We publish a prayer journal and encourage members to read Scripture daily, and keep a journal of what God is saying to them. We have to be connected with God before we can do anything.”
He said the Wednesday night schedule begins with a meal and then focuses entirely on prayer.
Falls said there were a couple of reasons to change the Sunday night schedule and meet in the afternoon instead.
“We draw people from a wide geographical area,” he noted. “This way they only have to make one trip to the church.”
He said after a lunch breakfollowing the morning service, members return at 2 p.m. for hands-on discipleship training.
“We recently did Becoming Contagious Christians and we revisited Experiencing God,” Falls said. “We also train our people in the Roman Road plan of salvation once a year.”
Falls said there is an emphasis on small groups meeting on a weekly and quarterly basis.
“Spiritual growth takes place in small groups,” Falls pointed out. “If you can get people in a group rather than a pew, that’s where spiritual growth comes.”
But the church also works to get people in the pew so they can hear the Gospel.
“The number one reason people come to church is because they know someone,” Falls declared. “Therefore, our outreach tends to be relational.”
The church has something called “Give Friday Nights to Jesus,” a non-threatening social time, which might be a cook-out, game night or other event, where people who are not in church are special guests.
A summer movie night, with popcorn and soft drinks, annually attracts the unchurched, as do a fall festival, senior banquet and open gym night.
“One man had not been to church in 20 years, but he was invited to a social event at someone’s house, got to know them, came to church and two months later was saved,” Falls recounted.
Falls said the church also has events that are intentionally evangelistic, which bring people in who would otherwise not come to church.
“In all of these activities, our goal is to find prospects for our church,” said Falls.
Falls added that the church tries to connect with non-church groups, such as the Oklahoma City Pow-Pow Club.
“We do such things as pick-up trash for them. They have asked us to lead worship services, and they use our building for their Christmas dinner,” Falls said.
The church also works with the Oklahoma City public schools Indian program, counseling and helping raise money.
Mission activities include collecting toys for the Indian Clinic in Oklahoma City, and involving members in a drug rehab program.
“We try to get unchurched people involved in these activities with us,” Falls said. “One lady who helped us gather toys was baptized six months later.”
Ralph Hambin, a member since 1991, said he believes Glorieta is doing a great job reaching out to the community, not just Native Americans.
“Duirng the summer, we provide cups of water for native people who play ball,” he said. “We also work with a juvenile detention center for youth and with the Capital Association rescue mission.”
Judy Barker, a member of Glorieta five years, said the thing she loves about the church is its compassion for missions-ministry inside the church and missions outside.
“We try to involve everyone, from the very small ones, who are collecting Bibles to send to our soldiers and the first through sixth graders, who make hospital packets for the pastor and associate pastor to take when they visit people, to our members who are shut in, keeping them informed of activies so they feel involved,” Barker said.
She emphasized that Glorieta is a diversified, but close-knit congregation.
“We take care of each other and embrace those who come in and get them into a small group so they are not lost in the pews,” she noted.
Barker’s husband, Bob, was saved during one of the church’s outreach ministries,
“He came, got to know the people, connected with them, and started coming to church,” she said. “He was saved in December 2007.”