By Jennifer Johnson
In 2013, the people of Grandview Christian Church (Johnson City, TN) changed the way they thought about local missions—and how they reached out to their community.
“In the past we had a ‘community concern committee’ that made decisions about which local nonprofits to support,” says Brandon Waite. “But we gave small amounts of money to many different groups and didn’t really build relationships with any of them. We decided to be more intentional about reaching our area and really partnering with a few local organizations.”
The new initiative was called JCServe, and Waite was hired to serve as its coordinator. Together, church leaders kicked off JCServe by visiting Englewood Christian Church in Indianapolis to learn more about its outreach strategy and convening discussions in small groups and Sunday school classes about what next steps could look like.
“We quickly realized it didn’t make sense to start something new,” Waite says. “Instead, we decided to work more closely with organizations already doing good work in our area, and we invited guests from those ministries to visit our church and tell us more about what they do. After these visits, we voted on the four we’d most like to partner with long-term.”
The “winners” turned out to be a diverse group: an elementary school a few streets from Grandview, with 75 percent of students receiving free and reduced lunches; the Eastern Tennessee State University Campus House’s ministry to international students; Family Promise, a nonprofit that provides job training and life skills training to low-income and homeless families; and the Appalachia Service Project, an organization that makes homes drier, warmer, and safer for families who can’t afford to.
Waite began leading JCServe in June 2014 and launched the work by asking each of the four ministries how Grandview could help them be more effective. The school requested a mentoring program, and now a group of mentors—each person assigned to one specific child—meets weekly with the kids after school.
“Almost all of these kids have some sort of social or behavioral issue, and some need academic help,” Waite says. “Our goal is to build relationships and also encourage them to gain an understanding of the world beyond Johnson City. For every mentor in the school, we also have a person in the church praying for that mentor and that child.”
Each mentor made a one-year commitment, but Waite says ideally they will choose to continue on with their assigned child until the child graduates to middle school.
Family Promise requested mentors as well, with the goal of providing their clients with long-term friends and partners for support, celebration of successes, and encouragement toward future goals.
At ETSU, volunteers hang out with the students, play games, and provide food for Friday night gatherings. Grandview has also started a “Home Away from Home” program providing each interested international student with an American host family who welcomes the student into their home for occasional meals, as well as longer visits during school breaks and holidays—“both the ones they celebrate and the ones we do,” says Waite. These families also help out with running errands and teaching the students basics of American life like buying groceries or setting up a bank account.
Finally, the Appalachia Service Project asked for volunteers who can be called on to help with building and remodeling projects, and who will develop relationships with the families the ministry wants to serve.
In addition to challenging Grandview members to more intentional service, JCServe is also a great way to involve new people.
“Working alongside someone is a really good way to form friendships with others,” Waite says. “One of my goals for the program is for it to become one of our primary means of discipleship, with people both serving and reflecting theologically on what they’re doing. A lot of people have been in Bible studies their whole life but never really stepped out in significant service to others, and when they do, their faith becomes more real and they read Scripture differently. You consider Jesus’ ministry in a new light when you work with someone in need.”