DOOR’s Deaf leaders and staff worldwide choose to sign “believers’ fellowship” rather than church. Deaf leaders feel that the term “church” often denotes a dedicated church building with a full-time paid pastor, rather than the true biblical model. Using the term “believers’ fellowship” helps them remember the biblical model of church and to stay away from the traditional church model, which they have found is neither effective nor reproducible in the Deaf world.
Deaf people connect with God and worship Him very differently than hearing people do. There is one God, one Lord, and one body, but we are diverse. God receives and enjoys worship from hundreds of different cultures and languages all over the world. He rejoices to receive true worship from the hearts of Deaf people as well, and this happens best in the context of an indigenous Deaf believers’ fellowship.
In a Deaf believers’ fellowship, Deaf people create their own Deaf worship music, sometimes using a drum to keep the beat. Hearing music is tones, instruments, voices, and sounds, while Deaf music is motion, rhythm, hands and eyes. Hearing music doesn’t usher the Deaf into God’s presence the way that Deaf music does.
Many Deaf people prefer to pray with their eyes open and their heads raised. Closed eyes in the midst of Deaf conversations are quite rude and disrespectful.
In a Deaf believers’ fellowship, Deaf people can experience true fellowship. They can communicate in sign language, develop friendships, encourage each other, listen to and understand pains and joys, and draw each other closer to God. In a hearing church, despite the very best of intentions, this is usually not practical or possible for Deaf people, simply because of the language barrier between Deaf and hearing members.
Deaf people are consummate storytellers. They pass on information, values, and traditions through stories told in precise chronological order. In a Deaf believers’ fellowship, they are free to teach God’s Word in story format as well, rather than thematic teaching involving various Scriptures. The stories are repeated in drama and song, with the goal of everyone in the fellowship learning the story by heart. Deaf people also learn best interactively. In a Deaf believers’ fellowship, they are free to ask questions, seek clarification, discuss meaning, and ponder application together. Most hearing worship services are not set up with such an opportunity for interaction.
A Deaf believers’ fellowship can focus time, energy, finances, and other resources on specifically reaching their local Deaf community, the Deaf of their country, and the Deaf of the world. Deaf people will find a Deaf Believers’ fellowship an attractive, exciting, and welcoming place, where they do not have to overcome cultural or linguistic barriers, or watch an interpreter, to understand the message. Strong, healthy Deaf believers’ fellowships reproduce and effectively begin to penetrate the Deaf world with the gospel.
Every believer is given spiritual gifts. In a hearing church setting, often Deaf people can only be objects of someone else’s ministry. But God has created all of us to be ministers, including the Deaf. In a Deaf believers’ fellowship, each person is free to use their spiritual gifts, talents and passion to serve in the work of the ministry.