By Jennifer Taylor
Many churches feed the hungry, clothe the needy, and help the poor—so many, in fact, no article could list them all! Here are eight ministries making a difference around the country.
Building Better Communities—New Orleans, Louisiana
When Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, Building Better Communities—a nonprofit organization founded by Journey Christian Church—already served the homeless and poor with clothing, hot meals, and worship services. Since then, “BBC has come a long way,” says Tim Martin, the executive director. “[We] now provide a comprehensive community-based ministry to people in east New Orleans with plans for expansion into 12 areas of the city.”
The ministry welcomes community input and focuses on projects providing relationship-building opportunities leading to evangelism and discipleship. Programs include after-school tutoring, counseling services, housing assistance, and even “Dress for Success” to help women prepare for interviews and new jobs.
The ministry also plans to develop several “Matthew’s Place” outreach centers, based on the story of Jesus spending time with “sinners” and tax collectors, to provide gathering spots for friendship, small community events, and worship. BBC plans to work with other churches and church plant organizations to launch new congregations through the ministries and volunteer efforts of these outreach centers.
His Place—Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Since 1975, Pittsburgh-area churches of Christ and independent Christian churches have worked together to resource His Place, an inner-city organization providing small groups, character development initiatives, abstinence education, reading clubs, and writing classes for children, teens, and single moms. His Place recently began a homeless outreach, as well; each Wednesday night volunteers carpool to the north side and distribute food and toiletries.
The ministry also welcomes short-term mission teams and hosts visiting groups in its 10-room facility.
Good Samaritan Ministry—Lincoln, Illinois
Several years ago, a widow from Jefferson Street Christian Church in Lincoln needed help shoveling her driveway. A church member volunteered, and Jefferson Street eventually created a ministry to provide similar services to the elderly and disabled in their fellowship.
Today the Good Samaritan Ministry offers assistance with household maintenance, transportation, auto repair, and more to people inside and outside the church family.
“Good Sam” serves widows, single parents, physically or mentally disabled individuals, and even military families. Its theme is “love in action,” and volunteers also cooperate with other area groups to serve hundreds of families each month. Jefferson Street subsidizes some costs, and ministry leaders are currently in discussions with World Vision to create a storehouse and satellite office in Lincoln.
Life Journey Christian Church—Bakersfield, California
Life Journey launched as a suburban, meeting-in-a-movie-theater church plant in 2003, but its leaders soon discovered a different mission field for the congregation. Today the church focuses on ministry to the poor neighborhoods and broken people of Bakersfield.
One significant way is through Tim and Randi Reardon, who live at the lower-income Emerald Glen apartment community. Each week the Reardons offer Bible studies for the elementary and junior high kids living at the complex, and also work with Life Journey to organize back-to-school parties, food and clothing donations, and other help.
But the church doesn’t limit its work to Emerald Glen. When city officials identified the Cottonwood-Filsen neighborhood as the worst in terms of code enforcement, members from Life Journey and Kaleo Christian Fellowship (a new church plant Life Journey helped start) spent one Sunday morning cleaning a huge alley filled four feet deep with trash.
The church also partners with Here’s Life Inner City, a division of Campus Crusade, to tutor and mentor first-grade students.
This church of less than 100 helps hundreds more by following its formula: “P2 x M2 = T2 x 1”—prayer and partnerships times modeling and mentoring equal individual and community transformation, one life at a time.
Southland Christian Church—Lexington, Kentucky
Several of Southland’s core values emphasize the importance of serving others, and several Southland programs offer new ways for members—and others in the community—to live these values in practical ways.
Last spring the church launched its Elementary Food Program to provide backpacks stuffed with food for children who might otherwise spend the weekend hungry. Church members donate all the food items, and 80 volunteers prepare and deliver the backpacks. “We serve 400 children, including many who also receive the government’s free lunch program,” says Karen Bowman, involvement coordinator.
The church also organizes a “staff encouragement team” that provides gifts and cards to teachers, custodians, and administration.
This spring Southland is launching the Refuge Health Clinic to offer free health care and dental services to needy patients in two neighboring counties. A local health department offered the use of its building after regular office hours and, as part of the commitment to work with Southland, even altered its space to add dental chairs! Volunteers will eventually add an eye clinic, and the church is already planning a second location (including a pharmacy) in a donated building downtown.
Just as Southland hopes other community members will join its efforts, the church also partners with non-Southland organizations already making a difference. Staff members choose several local nonprofits each year and work with them to supply additional help.
Capital Area Christian Church—Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania
Capital Area Christian Church uses many strategies to serve the poor and needy in eastern Pennsylvania—and it keeps trying new things!
Each Thanksgiving the church delivers more than 1,000 huge food baskets to people who cannot afford such feasts. “Our church attendance is around 500, so to give away this many baskets is wonderful,” says Cabot Lodge, shepherding/administrative pastor.
Church members volunteer at several local shelters and serve people facing homelessness, developmental disabilities, or drug addiction.
Also, a CACC men’s Bible study discovered its local Panera Bread restaurant will donate leftover food to nonprofits that promise to give it away; each Monday night the group visits the shop at closing time and delivers the food to Shalom House, a temporary shelter for abused women and children.
Contact Church of Christ and Park Plaza Church of Christ—Tulsa, Oklahoma
Contact Church began as an inner-city ministry of Park Plaza Church of Christ, also in Tulsa, and held its first services as a separate church in 2002. Contact’s food pantry and clothing center serve thousands of local residents; its Contact Recovery House offers housing, 12-step meetings, and Bible study for men struggling with chemical addictions.
Both churches also partner with other congregations to support and staff a mobile medical van that provides free health services at sites throughout the city.
Several church initiatives focus especially on women in need. This spring Contact hosted its first-ever “Women’s Health Expo” to reach the uninsured. Doctors and nurses “set up shop” at the church to provide free services. And the “Contact Life” program has helped more than 200 single moms—some as young as 13—with prenatal care and parenting classes.
“We try to love people where they are,” says Joel Osborn, Contact’s CEO. “This means accepting their situation and their past, and often—since many rely on public transportation—it also means literally going to their neighborhood. This kind of ministry can transform a community.”
Journey 2L2—Kingston, New Jersey
Every week since the church’s launch in 2007, Journey2L2 leaders have coordinated service projects targeted to the homeless and poor in their community. Recent projects included a hot soup and blanket giveaway, a “Free Spree” where families could “shop” for free clothing and school supplies, and summer fun bag giveaways for needy children.
The church also made headlines with its recent “A Journey Home” projects. Dozens of 2L2 volunteers painted walls, scrubbed kitchens, and assembled furniture to transform two rental spaces into warm, inviting homes for single mothers and their children. The team also consulted with each family on decorating and color choices to ensure the redesigned homes matched their preferences.
During their most recent home makeover project, for a single dad named David Berner, 50 volunteers refurbished a townhouse so Berner could sell it and move into more affordable housing.
“I worry about what we are going to do next, where we will go from here,” Berner shared in a South Brunswick (New Jersey) Post article. “I told the kids, though, we are going to church from now on.”
Jennifer Taylor, a CHRISTIAN STANDARD contributing editor, writes our semiweekly “Buzz” column and blogs at our Web site, www.christianstandard.com. She lives in Nashville, Tennessee.