Bridge Christian Church's most recent outreach event is not likely to elicit any new members, but lead pastor David Sternberg says that's perfectly fine.
Last week, the church hosted a prom -- Shine 2013 -- in the ballroom of The Chattanoogan hotel for people with special needs and their caregivers.
"If they come to our church," Sternberg says, "that's awesome. Most likely, these people will never come to our church. The mission [for the event] is to flat out love the community."
Guests in outfits from casual to festive -- and who had been treated to hair styling and makeup design -- were photographed as they walked down the red carpet to the ballroom. A dinner followed, then carnival-style
games and dancing as a disc jockey spun tunes.
Caregivers, in a separate Respite Room, were offered massages, desserts and coffee.
The church adopted the prom idea from Sternberg's former youth minister at Southland Christian Church, a megachurch in Lexington, Ky., that holds a similar event. The Kentucky church's annual Jesus Prom draws more than 1,000 participants.
The challenge to do such an event grew out of Sternberg's 13-week "Love Lab" message series at the nondenominational Chattanooga church, which meets in Westview Elementary School.
"We can sit here on Sunday morning and learn about God, learn about the Bible," Sternberg says, but without the love for one another mentioned in 1 Corinthians 13, "then this means nothing."
"For me," he says, "God talks about loving with the heart, soul, mind and strength, which is essentially the head, heart and hands. We do a good job on the head ... [but] that's an imbalance of all we're implying."
Putting together a free prom for special-needs folks involved more than the head.
Leading up to the event, The Chattanoogan donated its ballroom, gave the church "a great deal on the food," Entertainment Solutions comped its DJ and SpaGo volunteered its services in the Respite Room. Others, many not even involved with the church, donated money.
"It was absolutely incredible," Sternberg says. "It was one of the most beautiful things -- agape things -- I've ever seen."
Volunteers also came out of the woodwork to serve as chaperones for the evening.
"It was an incredible," he says. One-third or one-half were not a part of the church. They just jumped in to help. We didn't expect that."
The event drew some 50 prom attendees and caregivers of high school age and up, and Sternberg hopes for even more next year.
"I think the [caregivers] that came didn't know it would be this elaborate," he says. "I hope it grows numerically as the word gets out. These people are so important. They deserve to have an event like this, to not be overlooked."
Sternberg says the date for next year's prom -- May 16, 2014 -- is already set, and interested people can sign up at www.shinechattanooga.org.
The event follows the mandate in Luke 14, where Christ relates a parable about inviting those who can't repay you -- "the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind" -- to a feast, he says.
"It's love without strings," Sternberg says.
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Clint Cooper is the faith editor and a staff writer for the Times Free Press Life section. He also has been an assistant sports editor and Metro staff writer for the newspaper. Prior to the merger between the Chattanooga Free Press and Chattanooga Times in 1999, he was sports news editor for the Chattanooga Free Press, where he was in charge of the day-to-day content of the section and the section’s design. Before becoming sports ...