Last week we were introduced to Washington Heights Grace Brethren Church in Roanoke, Va., where the church’s Wednesday night children’s ministry draws more attendees than the church on Sunday morning.
And they are totally okay with that.
The church, established in 1951, has been faithful in prayer for many years. In the last few years, God started moving there in a new way, and they have they have ventured outside of their usual congregational comfort zones to touch the community around them in big ways.
After reaching out to the low-income neighborhood surrounding them, Washington Heights Grace Brethren Church was excited to watch as God prospered their Wednesday night children’s ministry, and then as some of the parents started responding too. Pastor Kevin Smith believes that God started answering their prayers when the congregation decided to stop waiting for people to come and go out instead.
“People don’t want to go to a place there not familiar with and even though we had a sincere desire to cross that barrier, the neighborhood didn’t. Finally we had to go to where they are.
“Some Saturdays, we go down to a certain housing complex a few blocks from us and bring bagged lunches. We’ll show up, we’ll give away food and I’ll preach right there in the parking lot for just a few minutes,” explains Pastor Smith. “Typically outreach in an American church is about marketing in such a way to get people to come to your church — which seems to be opposite of what Jesus and the early church did. We’d like to bring church to their territory.
“When we follow up at someone’s door, we always bring a loaf of bread or a gallon of milk – simple for us but it makes their week – and in this way we earned our right to have conversations with them and eventually be invited into their home.”
The apartment complex that the church focuses on is reputed in the town as one of the most dangerous. The police raid it so often that it’s set up like a compound –there is only one way in and out. “That is the place we walk into unarmed at night,” explains Pastor Smith. “The Lord’s hand is upon it now I believe. There’s joy spiritually in stepping out like that. Risk is right.”
“This has been a great adventure, seeing Jesus share his love with other people – we’re still learning and growing every day.”