7540 Lyndon B Johnson Fwy Dallas, TX 75251
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8000 Western Hills Blvd Fort Worth, TX 76108
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6401 Parkwood Blvd Frisco, TX 75034
Streaming Sunday 9:00 AM and 11:15 AM
6400 K Ave Plano, TX 75074
Streaming Sunday 9:00 AM and 11:15 AM
One of the greatest threats to any local body is that they can easily form inward facing circles and forget the missional call on every individual's life. Holy huddles shrivel up and die. At the same time, if we were to only face outward, we would become hallow and weak. A healthy church makes circles that are both inward and outward facing. Adam Tarnow and Jeff Ward talk through how Watermark embraces the tension of being both inward and outward focused.
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One of the greatest threats to any local body is that they can easily form inward facing circles and forget the missional call on every individuals life. Holy huddles shrivel up and die. Outward only circles become hallow and weak. A healthy church makes circles that are both inward and outward facing. Adam Tarnow and Jeff Ward talk through how Watermark embraces the tension of being both inward and outward focused.
Adam Tarnow: Good morning, Watermark. My name is Adam Tarnow. I'm excited to be with you guys today. Today we're going to be taking a little break from the Summer on the Mount series, and we have something else we have in store for you guys. To set up our time, I'm going to do a little experiment with my friends over here. Why don't you guys come on over? Get into the light here.
These are my friends. This is an experiment. This is live. I don't know how this is going to go. This could go wildly wrong. If nothing else, for the next few minutes this will be riveting television for you guys, to see how this goes. I brought my friends up here primarily because they have a song and dance they've prepared to "Baby Shark." Would that be a fun way to start? After all that great music to go do "Baby Shark"? That's not what we're going to do. We're going to do something else. Let's watch this to see how this experiment goes.
Here's what I need for you guys to do. Make a circle. Here we go. Look at that. Any other way you could make it? And we moved, and we have that there. All right. Very good. The experiment has gone well. You guys are normal. That's what I want to tell you. Every time I run this experiment, the exact same thing happens.
When I ask people to make a circle, they often get together and make an inward-facing circle, and then if I ask them to do it again, they'll do exactly what you guys did. They'll maybe hold hands and get closer together. That has happened in just about all of these services we've done this. So you guys are normal. Thank you very much for passing the experiment. Let's thank our friends for being up here. You guys are free to go.
I show you that today because this tendency to make an inward-facing circle is one of the most significant challenges we face here at Watermark Community Church, this tendency to just get together and be facing one another and kind of ignoring everybody who is outside of the circle. Now, if we here at Watermark just wanted to be a club or a fraternity or sorority or a neighborhood association, then that would be fine that we just had an inward-facing circle, but that's not who we are.
We're not a club. We're not a fraternity or sorority. We're not a neighborhood association. We are a church, and one of the distinguishing characteristics of a church is that we make our circles differently. We don't just get together and make an inward-facing circle; we need to make those circles differently. That's what makes this organization, this church, different than any other organization that is out there. It's this drive to make a circle differently.
Now, if you unpack that a little bit, though, if we think about some of what we read and some of the commands we see as we read through the New Testament, it sounds like there's a little bit of a tension with what kind of a circle we should make. Let's just say you're reading through the Gospels and you're reading in John and get to John, chapter 13, and see Jesus telling us and commanding his followers to love one another.
Well, that would seem to indicate we should make an inward-facing circle, because we are to love one another, and Jesus would say the way we love one another and the way we tell the rest of the world we're different and are following after him is seen in the way we make an inward-facing circle and the way we love one another.
If you continue to read through the New Testament and you get to the book of Hebrews, you'll see the author of Hebrews telling us not to give up or to forsake meeting together and that we are to spur one another on toward love and good deeds. So, you read through some of the New Testament and you see this call and this command to make an inward-facing circle, but if you continue, you'll see some other passages that maybe indicate something else.
If you open up the book of Matthew and you get to Matthew, chapter 22, you'll see Jesus talking about the greatest command, that we are to love God and love our neighbors as ourselves. You move on in the book of Matthew and get toward the end and you see that after Jesus had risen from the dead, one of the last commands he gave to his followers was to go and make disciples.
So, here it is. You're reading through the New Testament and you see this call to be an inward-facing circle, yet you also see this call to be an outward-facing circle, to love your neighbor and to go and make disciples. It looks like there is this tension there. Are we to love or are we to go, and what kind of circle are we supposed to make as followers of Jesus? The answer is both. We are to do both.
This is a tension to manage; this is not a problem to solve. If we look at this as just a problem to solve and we go, "Let's just love one another," then what's eventually going to happen, if we just make inward-facing circles here at Watermark, is we're going to shrivel up and become smaller and eventually just die.
If we go over to the other extreme and go, "The way we're going to solve the problem is we're always going to be outward-focused," well, that has problems as well, because if we're only outward-focused and that's where we go and that's where we put all our time and attention, then what'll happen is we'll end up becoming hollow and weak and we'll just crumble and won't be all God intended for us to be. So this is not a problem to solve; this is a tension to manage.
The different way that we, as a church, are to make a circle is that we are to be an inward- and outward-facing circle. That's what distinguishes us from other organizations. That's the call that is on our lives as we embrace that tension. When churches embrace that tension and say, "We're not going to be just inward or just outward; we're going to be both. We're going to be an inward/outward-facing circle," then some amazing things start to happen.
In fact, that's part of the reason we're even sitting in here 2,000 years after Jesus' death, burial, and resurrection here in Dallas, Texas. From the time when Jesus said to go and make disciples, his church has organized and said, "All right. We're going to be inward and outward." When a church embraces being inward and outward, it gets healthy and it grows. Over thousands of years his church has grown. It hopped over the ocean and came to the United States, and now, thousands of years later, here we are in Dallas, Texas, seeking to be God's church here in our city.
I start with all that because, today, what we're going to discuss is how we, as a church, have been trying to embrace this tension of being an inward- and outward-facing circle. One of the things I love about this church is that from day one, for over 19 years, this church has said, "We are going to make our circles differently. We are going to be inward and we are going to be outward."
We've used different metaphors and different phrases over the years, and we've told different stories to illustrate this over the years. If you've been around Watermark for a while, you know we talk about how you don't go to church. Like, right now you guys are not in church. We are the church.
One of my favorite stories Todd tells is that if he is ever out somewhere and people say to him, "Oh, I saw your church; it's beautiful," he'll always ask back, "Well, who did you meet?" He's just trying to illustrate and remind us over and over again that the church isn't a building; it is a people who are on mission for God. That's who we are.
We've talked about how we're a family, and you don't go to family; you are a family. The one metaphor that has stuck and is maybe better than all of them that we've used over the years… If you've been through the membership class or gone to Discover Watermark, you've certainly encountered this metaphor: we are not a cruise ship; we are a battleship.
We are not a cruise ship. We don't just open up the doors and play nice music and have a nice staff, and all this kind of stuff, to try to impress you, like you maybe would on a cruise ship, where you're trying to figure out what programs they offer and what games and activities they have, and you're trying to assess whether or not you like the music on the ship and if you like where they're cruising to, and then if you're done, maybe you'll bring some friends and come back and cruise again.
That is not what we try to do here. We are not a cruise ship; we are a battleship. We are a team that comes together to follow the noble mission given to us by our Lord Jesus Christ, and we are a battleship on mission. That is who we are. So, today, we're just going to remind ourselves how God has been using this family, how God has been using this called-out people, how God has been using this battleship, this inward/outward circle.
We're going to focus a little bit on the outward side just to remind ourselves of what we're doing outwardly, because we know there's always that tendency to focus inward. I think today is going to be really, really important and really helpful for everybody in the room, but especially if you're here the first time and are just starting to get to know who we are here at Watermark. You're going to get to hear a lot of our heart and what we want to be and what we feel God has called us to be here in our city. So this is going to be a great introduction to our heart and who we are.
If you've been around Watermark for years, I think today is going to be a great encouragement to you and a reminder of all of the amazing things that are happening outside of the walls of 7540 LBJ. God is writing a story in this city, and by the grace of God we get to be a part of it, and we're excited to share some of those stories with you this morning. I hope all of us are inspired to continue to make a different circle where God has us planted, to not just be inward-focused but to also be outward-focused.
For the balance of our time, you guys are going to get to hear from my friend Jeff Ward. Jeff gets to lead the External Focus ministry here at Watermark, and we have a lot of fun things we're going to be able to share with you guys. So why don't you guys welcome Jeff to the stage? All right, Jeff. We were talking a little bit this morning about young Jeff, late-teenager Jeff, early‑20s Jeff, and you mentioned to us you had a band in high school.
Jeff Ward: Oh no. This is how authenticity can backfire.
Adam: He was telling us that he had a band in high school, so those of you guys who are out there going, "I think I recognize that guy," you might have been to one of his shows. You had…
Adam: Two shows. You guys had two shows.
Jeff: But we were great.
Adam: Yeah, you were awesome. Awesome cover band. The band name was…?
Jeff: PiXturz. It was the late 80s, guys, so we had the oversized X in the middle and the Z on the end.
Adam: It's surprising that you only had two shows with a band name like that.
Jeff: Right. A lot of practicing. You just cashed in some trust chips right there.
Adam: So, we were having fun talking about the late-teenage/early-20s years, but God does a lot in our lives and we're thinking about a lot and thinking about what we're going to grow up and be when we're in our 20s. What did 20-year-old Jeff think he was going to be when he grew up?
Jeff: Man, 20-year-old Jeff didn't know exactly, but I went through college and spent some time overseas and ended up realizing I had a love for reading and writing. I ended up in the law and going to law school and then moving to Dallas in about 1995. Practicing law is my background. I did that for about 13 years and then got connected here. We heard about this young, upstart Bible church that was meeting at Lake Highlands High School a few blocks from our house, so in 2002 we joined the church, and it has been a really fun ride ever since.
Adam: So 20-year-old Jeff said, "I like to do all this. I'm going to follow this track. I think law is where I'm going to go." You did it for 13 years. So, how do you make that leap to go from following that path to eventually ending up on staff at a church leading an external focus ministry? What happened?
Jeff: That's a good question. Course correction in theology a little bit. I grew up with a mindset of the Christian walk being a lot about the "don'ts," kind of avoid the big sins. Then I got connected here and around other guys who began to show me the Christian walk was really all about the "dos." So, how was my life matching up with Scripture and God's Word?
I went overseas in 2007 on a Watermark trip to Africa. We got to spend time with Christian lawyers in the eastern Congo who were really struggling to be Christians and lawyers in a very corrupt system, really built around corruption. I tell folks when I got back from that trip it was a little bit like getting glasses for the first time, if you have glasses or contacts. You see all of the same things and the same people, but you begin to see them a little differently.
Coming back, the guys on that trip… We were like, "Man." We were inspired by what God was doing around the city and also wanted to jump in and see how we could use our gifts in a different way, maybe.
Adam: So those glasses… You came back not thinking immediately, "I'm going to go on staff at a church." You came back with a renewed sense of, "God wants to use me right here where I am." Then was the process to get on staff at the church a long process? Was it quick?
Jeff: No. I loved what I was doing, and I was giving my life over to the Lord in phases. I remember the day I sort of white-knuckled and put vocation on the table, and I just said, "Lord, I'm in ministry practicing law," just like everyone is in ministry wherever God has you, but just going, "Hey, Lord, if you could use me in some other way, I want to be open to that."
Shortly after that, I got the call from Watermark, saying, "Hey, we'd love for you to think about coming on staff and helping us put some direction and strategy around this thing called external focus." I thought it might be like a one-year gig, and here I am 11 years later, and it has been a phenomenal front-row seat to watch God work through the people here at Watermark.
Adam: That's amazing. The different metaphors that have been used over the years to talk about how differently we make our circle here at Watermark… What have been one or two of the metaphors that have been most impactful or helpful to you?
Jeff: The ones you shared are phenomenal. The thing I love is just our namesake. One of the reasons our leadership named this Watermark Community Church is that a flood leaves a mark as it recedes, so you know the water has been there. We ask ourselves often, "If Watermark went away tomorrow, would our city know? Would they care? Do they view us as part of the solution to the challenges facing our community or do they view us as part of the problem?" So I think the namesake, and also just the fact that community is our middle name. I love it. It reminds us we're to be salt and light.
Adam: You think about that, when you say "Community is our middle name…" We'll say that a lot here talking about more of the inward-facing circle with community, like Community Groups we do, or small groups, but I love the way you guys think about that. No, we are in a community here in DFW, so that's our middle name. We are to be outward-focused as well. So even that word community is the way we love one another and the way we want to embrace the city and be a blessing in the city.
I know oftentimes when you go around and talk about the name and the ministry External Focus, that's not usually a name you'll see at a lot of churches. So, what does it mean? Why did you guys call the ministry External Focus? Just unpack that a little bit.
Jeff: Early on, I would introduce myself or talk about what we were doing, and I would say "External Focus," and I always thought it was a little bit of a curse because I had to follow up with an explanation of what that means. Usually, depending on who I was talking to, it might be outreach or missions or something like that. I've come to believe it's a blessing, because I get to explain what it is we're called to do as believers in Christ.
Not just the ways we love and serve the community and places around the world but just how we, as the church, being externally focused, are called to lean into culture, into issues facing our culture today. So, everything from questions around life and abortion to LGBTQ to racial division to city ordinances and things along those lines. Just a reminder, as believers, we bring a biblical perspective and a biblical worldview to the challenges facing our communities.
Adam: So, when you talk about External Focus and this life of being on mission… We've even mentioned that a few times this morning. What are some of the common misconceptions that pop up in people's minds that you have to find yourself correcting or re-teaching as we talk about external focus?
Jeff: I think it's the "Hey, to be missional I'm going to have to sell all of my possessions and move to Africa" as a first next step. That might be your best next step, and if so, then we have some resources for you, but for most of us, it just means remembering that mission is really here and now.
It's with the people God has placed in your path. It's not something we do when we're in retirement. It's not something we do when we're empty nesters. It's not even something, necessarily, we do just when we come here on the weekends to serve. It's everywhere we are and the people God has placed in our path.
Adam: So, how do you describe even what it means to be missional? What is that? How would you say that simply?
Jeff: I think being missional is more about who you are than what you do. We don't serve out of guilt and shame; we serve out of an overflow of what the Lord has done in our hearts. One of my favorite passages is a single sentence in Matthew where Jesus tells the parable of the man who was walking across the field who stumbles on the treasure and then goes and sells all he has in joy, it says, and then purchases the field.
We, as believers in Christ who have been transformed and know the value of this kingdom of heaven, are out there engaging others and leading them into relationship with the Lord and then loving and serving them in the process.
Adam: That's great. I love how practical you and your team have made this, just a way to think about how to be externally focused and what God is doing outside of the walls here. You've come up with these four rings you use that I think are really helpful, so let's talk through each of these. I think that'll be helpful for everybody to hear. The first ring is neighborhood. Why do you start there, and what do you mean? Why is that one of the first places to think about when it comes to thinking about being externally focused?
Jeff: We talk about the why. This is a great model for us to understand what the what is, the next thing, the path to participate. We start with neighboring because, again, whether you're called to go to Uganda or you're called to do something in this city, we know we're called to love and serve our neighbors. Neighborhood is really just a reminder that we are on mission right there. It includes things like…
I mean, today, this evening, the most missional thing you might do is simply walk your dog around your neighborhood and get to know your neighbors and find out what's going on in their lives and how you can be praying for them. We've heard fun stories of folks who are signing up with their HOA to be the welcoming committee for folks moving into the neighborhood. They show up at the doorstep, and they're the first face that welcomes them with a fruit basket and just engages with them. Or Halloween block parties.
We even heard a fun story of a lady who brought her picnic table and put it in the front yard and kind of became the coffee station for the morning walkers and joggers, and it just became a hub in the community. We learn all of these things from you all through the 4B process, our spiritual assessment. We compile those things and even put those on the website.
Adam: I love this idea of starting with the neighborhood, because it's not a massive change in your life. It's just, as Jeff said, putting on new glasses, starting to think differently about where God has placed you. The neighborhoods you live in or the apartment complex you live in or the dorms you live in, wherever it is… God has randomly placed you there on purpose. Part of the purpose is not just for school or for the ZIP code and how close it is to where you work or anything like that. You're there to be God's man or woman and to be on mission in that neighborhood.
One of my favorite stories… When I lived in Atlanta, before I moved here to Dallas, one of my friends said that by accident he stumbled into a great way to engage his neighborhood. He had young kids, so they went and bought one of those blue plastic swings you hang from a tree. He said, "That swing has given me more opportunities to engage my neighbors and get to know my neighbors than anything I could have ever thought possible."
You know, 22 bucks, and he hangs that thing up there. They're out there pushing their kids, and every night that just became a hub in the neighborhood for people to gather. It was just a different way for him to think about "God has placed me here, so how can I use what he has given me and be outwardly focused with all this?"
Now, probably some people thinking about engaging in spiritual conversations or trying to have conversations with people beyond the get to know you and "Where are you from?" and all that kind of stuff… That may cause some angst in people. They're sitting there going, "That's the part I need help with. I don't know how to do that." What do we do here to help train people on how to engage in those conversations?
Jeff: We have a lot of resources for you guys. I think sometimes we can overthink this and go, "Man, I don't know if I have the gift of evangelism." We have a lot of resources. One of the things we talk about often around here is our Top 10 card. It's just as simple as writing some names down and inviting them to come with you tohere, to church, or something along those lines. If I had one thing to point you to, we have sort of a monthly mission trip to the city called Unashamed.
There's a weekend version of that (we do it every month), and there's a one-day version that's really great for families too. Part of that training is "How do you have winsome, non-awkward conversations with people about faith?" We don't have to move straight to the diagnostic questions, but we can just talk with people. So, you can participate in that. We've had about 750 folks just last year go through that. You get to serve in the city, see the city, visit some of our ministry partners, and it's a great next step.
Adam: That's great. So, that first ring is neighborhood, just starting to think differently about where God has you living right now. The second ring is work, which may be a little strange for some people going like, "Why would work be next?" Why do you guys include work in the way to think about how to be externally focused?
Jeff: This is one of the new things we're trying to develop. I think sometimes we have a tendency to come to church or worship on the weekend, and then we go to work on Monday, and it's really easy to have this secular/sacred divide. What happens spiritually is disconnected from what happens at work or feeling like, "Hey, God doesn't care about my work; that's not spiritual," or discipleship happens in a different context.
So, one of the things we're doing around work is helping people view work as worship, as discipleship. You spend most of your waking hours at the workplace, so, viewing that as one of the vehicles God uses in your life to shape you and also one of the opportunities, the platform you have to shape and inspire others.
One of the fun things for us on our team is getting to think with you about ways you can think about your work, your vocation, your competencies and skills as the primary vehicle by which God may want you to love and serve the city. If you're a legal professional like me, we have an affinity group of legal professionals. We've been meeting for a long time, going, "Hey, what are the gospel implications for our work, and what does that mean for us as lawyers?"
We've done that with educators. We've started that with medical folks. We're going to build out these affinity groups around everything from the building environment, architects and engineers… How do we build buildings for the glory of God, and how can we use these skills to advance God's kingdom in some really neat ways?
Adam: Even ways some business owners are trying to think differently about their business. Right?
Jeff: Yeah. One of the fun things has been walking, for example, the plant with an owner of a company who's thinking about, "How do I love and serve my employees? How do I make sure they're physically fit? Here's a gym. How do I make sure they're financially set up? We pay living wage," those kinds of things.
We're working with apartment complex owners. We connect them with our ministry partners so they can build out space that can be used for kids, safe spaces for after-school education and tutoring and VBS. So, a lot of different ways. In the Watermark News a few weeks ago was an oral surgeon who opens up his office, and then we bring volunteer dentists together and do extractions from our medical clinics. Just all kinds of ways, even inside your work, that you can love and serve our city.
Adam: Absolutely. That's what I love about these first two rings, neighborhood and work. You don't have to sell everything and leave. These are things just looking very differently at where God has you right now in a way to start to be more externally focused with all of that.
The third ring is the city, and this is where, for me, I just go, "All right. We live in a big city. There are so many needs." How do you guys even think about that, to go, "How are we even going to make any progress on trying to solve some of the problems that are here?" I like the way you guys frame this up. Why don't you share really quickly how you guys think about the city and where you landed on some of the impact areas?
Jeff: Sure. First of all, we're not another social services organization. We're not a parachurch. We're not the Rotary Club. We are the church, so we want to care about what God cares about. We want to make sure we're aligned with his heart for folks on the margins. The first thing we do is we go to Scripture. We look at passages like Philippians 2 and 1 John 3 and Isaiah 58 and Micah 6:8, and we just go, "Where is the Lord saying his church should be actively engaged?" That's one bucket.
The next bucket is "What are the needs in our community?" From the mayor's office on down to folks in the street, what are the challenges? Everything from job creation to homelessness to education disparities to incarceration, all those sorts of things. That can be overwhelming. We're not called to do everything, but we're called to do something. Then looking at how God has uniquely gifted and resourced our body here at Watermark and what competencies and human capital he has brought together. Out of those three buckets we have the sweet spot, which are the impact areas we operate in.
Adam: Yeah. Let's talk about these and unpack these. You have these six impact areas. I'll just read through the list really quickly, and then we can go through each of them. It's life and family restoration; second is health; the third area is school impact and mentoring; the fourth area is poverty alleviation and community development; the fifth is prison; and the sixth area is anti-sex trafficking. Let's just go through each of those. The life and family restoration. What are we doing to help in that area?
Jeff: Well, if you've been around Watermark for a while you know that life initiatives is a big deal for us. From the womb to the tomb we care about life. That's everything from pregnancy resource and helping women with an unexpected pregnancy be mentored in relationship and understand who they are and the resources available for that child they're carrying all the way through fostering.
There's a huge need for a waiting list of kids here in Dallas who need foster families. Even as CPS might break up a family, this being the place where they send families to say, "Hey, if you want to get your kids back, if you want to be restored in relationship, this is where you should go."
Adam: Okay. So, life restoration. What about health? What are we doing in that area?
Jeff: Access to health care is a huge challenge. Texas leads the country in uninsured folks. So you can put folks to work in discipleship relationships and you can do all kinds of things, but what we found is that so many people were using Parkland ER for their health care, which is a terrible way to receive health care and a very expensive way and not effective or efficient and not having emotional and spiritual needs met comprehensively.
So, about five years ago, we launched what is now called Watermark Urgent Care. We have a clinic about three miles from here that started with a trickle of folks coming through with physical needs, and then we would approach the emotional and spiritual needs and pray with every patient, if they would let us, and then connect them to ministry.
Last year we saw over 10,000 visits just in these clinics alone, and we're so excited about what's happening. Over 70 professions of faith just this year with folks coming through. So we're doubling down on that. We're expanding our hours. We added another clinic in Plano. We're celebrating a year there, and even this year looking at ways we can do even more with what's happening there.
Adam: That's awesome. All right. School impact and mentoring. What are we doing there?
Jeff: Just this week we've been meeting with DISD trustees around some of the challenges they're facing, education disparities and a lot of those, but even just if you look at third-grade reading levels and whether kids are reading along those lines there and the big disparity that is happening there amongst different geographies and different people groups and how even, based on that number, the state of Texas will try to figure out "What is the poverty rate going to be 10 years from now? How many prisons should we build?"
We just felt like that is a justice issue that the church should move into and come alongside. So we support teachers, and we have official partnerships with Title I schools around the Metroplex, and we help you all to engage in your local schools. We're really excited about ways we can even expand what we're doing there.
Adam: All right. Poverty alleviation and community development. Why don't you share some things we're doing there?
Jeff: That is everything from homeless ministry to job creation. The mantra there is "How do we empower people to be all that God intended them to be?" That's moving beyond just relief or what I affectionally call "turkey dinners and toy baskets," but really figuring out how to help people and intervene in appropriate ways.
One of the fun things in that area this last year is that we have spun up our own community development corporation. Watermark CDC is a thing, and that just helps us build capacity to say yes to some really innovative and creative ideas in our city to not just alleviate poverty but to bring discipleship-centric relationship into that mix and really help people in a big way.
Some of the first initial things we're doing is we have several hundred people who are going through our faith-based financial literacy program called Faith & Finances. One of the things we saw as we were putting people in discipleship-centric work is we saw paychecks evaporate, so we're training people to come through.
One of the fun things out of that is as those men and women graduate that program, then they can move into our individual development accounts, or IDAs, which is an incentivized savings program that allows them to accelerate their ability to get up on their feet, to save for things like a car and for housing, for education, for small business. For every dollar they deposit, we're matching up to 4:1 to help them do that, again with coaches and allies and people to come around them. So, again, super excited about that and several other ideas that are on the horizon.
Adam: That's amazing. Prison and anti-sex trafficking. Let's talk about these last two. What are we doing to help with prison ministry?
Jeff: So, connecting with men and women inside our prisons. One of the easy things we do is Noteworthy, which is a correspondence ministry. You can write to an inmate you get matched up with. I've been inside, and I've seen the letters from you all to our prisoners, and they're taped up on the walls, and how impactful that relationship can be with someone who may not have a healthy relationship outside the walls. There's a waiting list for people to do that.
Then we actually go into two separate prisons and do our Recovery ministry in there. We do worship. We do Bible studies. So, all kinds of ways, and even to help folks as they transition and assimilate out of prison.
Adam: All right. So, the last one, anti-sex trafficking. What are we doing there?
Jeff: That is just a dark, dark blight in our country and in our city. One of the ways we felt the church could move into that was to take people through a multi-week curriculum. You have to really understand that issue and the root causes behind it and a theology around that. Then at the end of that, we match people up based on their gift mix with our ministry partners that are operating in that space.
You might go in with the hotel/motel outreach team. We've actually worked alongside law enforcement to find women and minors who have been trafficked. You might go into the clubs and work with ladies to remind them who they are in Christ and where their identity is found and what the resources are. You might go into a safe house and do Bible studies and mentor women there. There are a lot of opportunities to work there, or even advocacy.
Adam: So, these six impact areas… That's Monday. Right? You guys do that on Mondays, just go and take care of all of those?
Jeff: Yeah. Tuesday I practice with my band.
Adam: They're coming back. PiXturz is coming back. Everybody is online right now reserving their tickets.
Jeff: I hope not.
Adam: So, share this number, because I think it's important to give people some context. We've mentioned the 4B. That's our survey we give to all of the members at the end of every year where we get some data about them, and it's also a spiritual assessment where we make decisions about how we're going to focus our ministry for the rest of the year. So, based on that recent survey from 2018 about how many people help you and serve in this area for impacting the city.
Jeff: We are so excited. Just under 3,000 of you are serving somewhere externally, either through ministry partners or in other ways. We have a battleship.
Adam: That is really awesome. So, we have neighborhood, work, city, and then this last ring is the world. Why don't you share for a little bit what we are doing to try to reach the ends of the earth.
Jeff: We have five international partners, and we look for partnerships with ministries that are working with indigenous leaders, developing them, and church planters. We come alongside and do some training with them, and we just figure out where the needs are that we can come and support. That's everywhere from Haiti to Latin America, the new partnership we have with Compassion to India, to the Middle East, and other places as well.
Adam: You've even started to think about how to reach the ends of the earth a little bit differently based on a conversation you've had. Why don't you share that story, because I think it's really good.
Jeff: For sure. I just saw the picture of the water wells. Can I say one thing? The other things that I think are important for you guys to know about are things like water wells that we're doing. We built a trade school in northern Uganda, originally for returning child soldiers who couldn't return to their communities who had come to faith and needed skills. We do child development centers in Latin America and other places. There's a whole world of opportunities…orphan care. We're funding Bibles going into closed countries. So there are all of those sorts of things as well.
One of the things we're super excited about is that we're seeing now the ends of the earth that are here in Dallas. One of the fun stories was we were over in the Middle East, and we were working with a partner over there that was working with men and women who were coming out of closed countries who had come to faith and then training them. We had just finished this week with them, and we were sitting down with the founder of this ministry who at that time was in his 70s.
We were so excited about what they were doing and how they were reaching people, so we said, "Hey, how could Watermark come alongside? How could the church come alongside you guys and accelerate what you're doing?" He leaned in and said, "Do you really want to reach these people for Christ?" We were like, "Yes! Absolutely." Then he said, "Do you really want to reach these people for Christ?" We were like, "Yeah, absolutely!"
I'm thinking we're going to stuff Bibles into our suitcases and go smuggle them into closed countries. He said, "If you will reach those people who are in Dallas, they can reach their friends and family and colleagues in these countries in places we can't even go." We were really convicted by that. As we came back and began to explore who was here in Dallas, we began to see all of these…
Let's start with, for example, international students. We have University of Texas Dallas (UTD) right here, which ranked eighth in the country in the number of international students. These are students who are leaders and influencers who are coming here for graduate degrees, and then they're returning to their countries. These students really want a relationship with an American family.
Twenty-five percent or less ever step foot into an American home while they're here being educated, yet they crave that. So, 8,500 international students at UTD. We only touch through our Friends program and our Home Groups about 200 to 300 of those students, and we have a waiting list of 100 of those students who would like to participate in that program.
Adam: I love it, because it comes all the way back down to neighborhood. Sometimes just thinking differently about where you already are, just opening up your home, is a great way to be able to have an impact with those…
Jeff: I mean, refugees too. We actually resettle more refugees here in the Metroplex than any other city in the country. We also know 40 percent of the folks moving into Dallas are foreign-born. We know that 80 countries are represented right here at Watermark that are first generation. And Spanish speakers, our Spanish-speaking friends… The Hispanic demographic is the fastest growing in the United States, and certainly here in Dallas. So we're so excited about doubling down on our efforts to reach, equip, and develop missionaries right here to reach these people groups here in Dallas.
Adam: All right. Let's wind down with the last couple of questions. I would imagine people are sitting there, and they're feeling fully deployed, but they're also hearing all of these other opportunities and maybe being inspired to try to help meet some of these needs in the city or around the world or even in their own neighborhood and work. Are you telling everybody to go do more? Is that what you're saying?
Jeff: Yes, absolutely. No, I'm not saying that. It's a great question. I think about my own Community Group and the men and women in my group. They are doubled down, heavily invested in our marriage ministry here at Watermark. God's amazing story is happening inside the walls through all of the ministries many of you are involved in. So if you are fully deployed and you are missionally engaged in your neighborhood and you see your workplace as a platform to love and serve others and the city, then we would just say, "Well done" and to be encouraged.
But if you are under-deployed, if you've been through Equipped Disciple and are ready to get going or you want to explore what might be out and around our city and God's amazing story outside the walls, we just tell you, "Let's go," and we'd love to work with you to find your fit. Or you might be somebody here who has never yet met Jesus, and we'd love to help you find a relationship with him so you can find that treasure and stumble over that and recognize the value of God's transformation in your heart. We'd love to talk with you about that as well if that's you.
Adam: All right. How can people find out some more information? What's one last call to action?
Jeff: We say, "Start simply and simply start." Don't feel like you have to overthink it. Here are three practical ways, three practical next steps for you. One is if you're interested in those impact areas or something specific, feel free to reach out in an email to email@example.com. We'll be back in touch with you, and we'll sit down and help you navigate all of the opportunities and find your fit.
Secondly, you might have your kids home for the summer. Summer is a great time to think about serving. All of our summer Give & Go opportunities are up on the website. You can go to watermark.org/go and you'll see a lot of things there. I was there this morning scrolling through. There are some tremendous exposure opportunities to see other parts of the city and ministries there.
Thirdly, many of our ministry partners are here this morning. They've invested time to come spend time with you. So as you walk out these doors, get to know some of these ministry partners that are right here in our lobby.
Adam: That's great. That's what we're going to give you an opportunity to do now. Jeff, why don't you pray for us, and then we'll release everybody.
Jeff: I'd be happy to.
Lord God, thank you for this day. Thank you for these folks who are about to be baptized. You've led them to this next step of obedience and following you and your commands. Lord, thank you for the privilege and the opportunity it is to be salt and light. We just know, as we were reminded a few weeks ago, that there are no random acts of kindness if we are followers of Christ.
Lord, help us to be intentional and thoughtful and engaging in our neighborhood and our workplace and the city and around the world, Father, and just be part of your kingdom-advancing work. Thank you again that you choose to do that in and through us, that we are your plan A and there is no plan B. Remind us of the transformation you have brought about in our hearts and lives. We love you. It's in Jesus' name we pray, amen.
Adam: Amen. You guys have a great week of worship, and you are dismissed.