At Little Rock's First Lutheran Church, people who want to "speak boldly" about their faith have embraced a model that has worked in the secular world: they've launched a Toastmaster's Club.
Kingdom Toastmasters offers "a safe environment to practice talking about Christ," the church says on its website.
It costs $20 to join. Dues are $45, payable every six months.
A new club must attract 20 members before it can receive its charter. Kingdom Toastmasters reached that milestone in three months, organizers said.
Most Kingdom Toastmaster members are actually showing up for meetings. The typical attendance rate is about 80%.
The gatherings aren't livestreamed or captured electronically; the only way to participate is to show up.
In the Acts of the Apostles, the fifth book of the New Testament, it says Christians "spoke boldly" about their faith. But it's hard to be bold, if you're paralyzed by fear whenever you stand in front of an audience.
That's where Kingdom Toastmasters comes in.
Members gather each Saturday at 9 a.m. in the church fellowship hall to hone their communications skills and to enjoy Christian fellowship.
Each meeting starts with prayer and strong coffee.
The agenda is highly regimented, with numerous speaking slots and an impromptu segment where participants are given a topic and asked to weigh in.
A Jokemaster presents something funny or amusing.
As the meeting winds down, evaluations are delivered, grammar is reviewed and an "Ah-Counter" delivers his report.
A bell is rung whenever filler words -- uh, um, er -- are used. Saturday it rang frequently.
Eloquence isn't required of any of the participants. The club's mission is to help members "develop communication and leadership skills, resulting in greater self-confidence and personal growth."
Fear of public speaking is neither rare nor new.
In Exodus 4:10, when Moses is tapped to lead the Israelites out of Egypt, the patriarch expresses misgivings about the task. In the King James translation Moses states: "Oh my Lord, I am not eloquent ... I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue."
(In the New Living Translation, he says: "I'm not very good with words. I never have been. ... I get tongue-tied, and my words get tangled.")
Christians sometimes have the same uneasiness when they read Jesus' command in Mark 16:15 to "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature."
Toastmasters, the church believes, can help break down the barriers to communication that might otherwise exist.
Lu Zhang, a Toastmasters Program Quality Director based in Northwest Arkansas, said faith-focused clubs are not common in District 43, which includes western Tennessee, northern Mississippi, and all of Arkansas.
Kingdom Toastmasters is "very unique," she said.
"When I joined Toastmasters, I was told it's very open, it's very diverse, but we usually avoid talking about politics, religion, those things," she said.
At Kingdom Toastmasters, faith is front and center.
Ronald Bacic, the church's pastor, is one of the club's charter members.
Saturday, he delivered a speech that included a passage from Proverbs 3 ("Trust in the Lord with all thine heart") as well as the lyrics from the theme to "Mahogany" ("Do you know where you're going to? Do you like the things that life is showing you? Where are you going to? Do you know?")
Summing up his roughly seven-minute-long speech, Bacic said: "Remember your past. Focus on the present. Look to the future."
The comments were greeted with vigorous applause.
Zhang also delivered a speech, describing how the organization had helped improve her life.
In Toastmasters, "you will always find a place to grow as a communicator and a leader," she added.
Others also portrayed Toastmasters as a tool for personal growth.
"No one here is an expert speaker. That's not the point of Toastmasters. It's just about improving," said Jolene Steinbicer, one of the club's original members.
The environment is relaxed.
"I loved the idea of having a space to talk about my faith,'' Steinbicer said.
"Everybody's really supportive of each other and encourages each other," she said. "It's really a place to come and get a little rejuvenated."
More information about Kingdom Toastmasters is available at tinyurl.com/2p85r6hf