Church-City Revitalization

By Jennifer Johnson

When I was 2, my mom was able to finagle free time by setting me in my crib with a pile of books. I’d sit there, chubby hands happily flipping pages I couldn’t yet read, for half an hour or more. To say I’m an introvert is like saying the Kardashians are trashy.

But although I tend to prefer solitude and processing the world in my head, I’ve learned the importance of connecting to others. Conversation and discussion remind me my strong opinions aren’t infallible, and my perspective isn’t the only one.

Englewood Christian Church’s story is another reminder of the value of dialogue. In the late 1990s, after years of declining attendance and neighborhood deterioration, the adults at ECC began meeting each Sunday night to discuss everything from the nature of Scripture and truth to the tensions between the kingdom of God and U.S. citizenship.

“When members of a church begin to honestly talk with one another, conversation becomes contagious and life together becomes intentional,” they write. “Issues like housing, employment, child care, household finance, food and education (to name a few) come to the forefront and the nominal practices of religion fade into the background.”

The church continues to gather for worship, of course, but also created a nonprofit organization to focus on comprehensive community development. Together they rehab houses and help local residents become first-time home buyers, publish The Englewood Review of Books, and work with other neighborhood organizations to revitalize their part of the city.

These initiatives, like constructing an outdoor recreation area for urban kids with a grant from State Farm, are impressive. This congregation of about 200 people has made more of a positive, tangible impact in its community than some churches five times larger.

A $25,000 grant from State Farm will lead to numerous improvements to urban land owned by Englewood Christian Church, Indianapolis, including a play area for children.
A $25,000 grant from State Farm will lead to numerous improvements to urban land owned by Englewood Christian Church, Indianapolis, including a play area for children.

“The process of learning to speak together, though, has been messy, painful, and costly,” Englewood shares. “Some preferred leaving to working out differences. Some disagreements served only to polarize members further. However, the unity which does exist is real and valued highly because it is costly. What has emerged from all of this activity has been a community of faith imperfectly but intentionally bearing the transformative gospel of Jesus Christ. It is a community church immersed in the real stuff of life.”

This is the kind of faith community I long to be part of; I’ve often said if I ever move to Indy I’ll join ECC. Meanwhile, Englewood’s story gives me hope that with work and time, my own small church here in Philly can develop more mature believers who live out their faith in more significant ways.

I’ll always be an introvert who wants another half hour with her books. But when conversations result in work this significant, I’m definitely willing to start talking.

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