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Real Life Christian Church members clean up eyesores after asking, What if?

by: COURTESY PHOTO: CALLIE VOGEL - Instead of sitting in a pew, listening to a sermon, Debbie Keuhn helped paint over graffiti one recent Sunday morning at a problematic private-property site in Cornelius.Most pastors nowadays are struggling to get people into their church’s pews. But Pastor Dale Phipps recently kicked his Cornelius congregation out of the pews — at least for one day.

Instead of dresses and suits, work clothes were the garb for about 50 Real Life Christian Church members who showed up toting tools May 19.

The community-service day came at the end of a month-long series of sermons with a “What if?” theme. According to Callie Vogel, who helped coordinate the event, the first three were fine sermons, but it was the last question that stuck with her long after that Sunday afternoon: What if we left the pews?

“There was no actual sermon, but we all remember the message,” Vogel said. “Doing it was way more powerful than talking about it.”

After a brief prayer that morning, asking God to bless their work and the neighbors they served, church members began painting over graffiti and picking up garbage.

The group targeted community “eyesores” that were privately owned, said Lt. Joe Noffsinger of the Cornelius Police Department.

“It’s great that we have businesses and citizens in and around our community who are willing to give their time and resources to help make our city a better place,” Noffsinger said.

Hillsboro businesses Parr Lumber and Rodda Paint donated paint brushes and paint. Cornelius Garbage Disposal provided dumpster and pickup services.

The first of Phipps’ sermons asked “What if” church members genuinely cared about their families, friends and humanity as a whole. The next asked “What if” we were honest about our struggles, insecurities and needs. “What if we failed?” was the third focus, exploring how people can learn from mistakes.

The idea was to engage people’s imaginations, Phipps said.

Church members enjoyed the service day so much they’re talking about making it a regular event, said Phipps, who invites people to suggest further philanthropic “What ifs” to the church.

“People were genuinely excited,” he said. “They’re looking for other ways to make a difference.”

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