Pastor's ImpACT program in Springfield helps needy, changes lives

Friday, November 25, 2011 | 3:14 p.m. CST

SPRINGFIELD — When Tommy Sparger introduced ImpACT at North Point Church, the pastor believed it would "change the conversation" about what it means to be Christian.

ImpACT has accomplished that, he says, and it has changed lives, both inside the church and the community.

ImpACT — written to emphasize "I act" — is a strategic outreach that addresses the "four global giants of disease, poverty, illiteracy and spiritual emptiness." The program involves congregational involvement, from financial donations to spending one Saturday a month working with an already established nonprofit that addresses one of those needs.

Sparger introduced the program three years ago. There have been both mistakes and successes in that time, but the effort has paid off, and Sparger wants other churches to benefit from North Point's experiences.

So he wrote a book about it.

"The ImpACT Effect: A Revolutionary Vision for Compassion in Your Community and the World" is a "how-to book for doing social justice," Sparger says.

Scott McDonald and his family had been attending North Point for about a year when Sparger began talking about "something he called ImpACT."

The idea "really resonated" with McDonald and wife, Angie. They signed up for a Second Saturday event, distributing socks, shoes and toys to neighborhood kids.

"My daughter and I were working at the sock table, and my daughter made the comment about how much fun it was to give the kids the socks and be involved," McDonald recalls. "It made me realize it was making a difference for our daughters ... how important it is to serve. For us, that affected our family."

The McDonalds came to North Point for the high-energy atmosphere of the worship and Sparger's preaching.

"What kept us at North Point has been ImpACT," he says.

Sparger's book aims to do two things: inspire a Christian call to social justice and offer some practical ways to accomplish that. The examples of fliers, pledge sheets, posters and letters alone may be worth the price of the book, he says.

"It's an innovative idea, and we found a way to simplify it," Sparger says.

The book includes a call to action, providing stunning details about poverty and disease and offering clear arguments for a Christian response.

He is unapologetic about his arguments and his use of the term "social justice."

Christians sometimes have a "wrestling match with what the Bible says about the poor," Sparger says, pointing out that there are at least 2,100 references in the Bible to helping the poor.

"We're concerned about going to heaven," he says. "But we are more concerned about bringing the kingdom."

Bonnie Schooler, who is a member of Lake Hills Church in Ozark, heard about North Point and ImpACT from a friend.

"What I loved about it was their no-strings-attached approach," she says. "They just go out there and love people where they are."

She brought the idea to her pastor, Jack Ward, who embraced the concept. Working with Jamie Swenka on the North Point staff, Schooler found ways to utilize ImpACT at Lake Hills.

The church already had an outreach program — it held food drives and adopted families at Christmas. "We've grown, oh, my goodness, since January," Schooler says.

The 125-member church planted a community garden, worked in Joplin after the May tornado, held a back-to-school bash for more than 600 kids and had a fundraising walk for Charity Water, which raised more than $2,700 for clean water projects.

Schooler is looking forward to reading Sparger's book.

"I love the philosophy behind it," she says. "I think that there's just so much more fulfillment when you are living your life not just for you but helping to meet other people's needs."

Sparger is matter-of-fact about that philosophy: "It's just the human thing to do at the end of the day. To me, what we do is normal Christian behavior. It's not new.

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