Church Needs Better Infrastructure to Expand Ministry in Low Income Neighborhood. Really?

Part 1 of a series of blogs on Messy Ministry

A well-heeled congregation began an outreach to a low income neighborhood.  They started a food pantry and began meeting other physical needs for that community.  They started well.  Working with two local churches they were able to provide things that were truly needed instead of just guessing.  Their assistance provides families enough food to get through the month, and if they do nothing else, they are making a difference.

I was talking with a leader in the church about whether they planned to expand their involvement in that low income community.  Do they have any plans to get involved with people on a personal level? The answer was a “Yes, but…”

“Yes, but we’re not sure which way to go. There is no infrastructure for more involved ministry.”

The answer struck me as odd, but I didn’t have a response to it during the meeting.  As I drove home I pondered that phrase, “no infrastructure”.  What kind of infrastructure does it take to get to know people?  The first step in relational ministry is to get to know the people you are serving. Address their perceived needs.  Don’t assume you know what they’re hungry for.

Is there a place where people hang out in that community?  A park or playground?  If so, you have the infrastructure you need to get started.  Take a cooler of cold drinks there on a warm day and hang out with them.  Make friends.  That’s a great start.

The church in ministry works with two churches in the community. Do those churches have sanctuaries, parking lots or lawns?  If so, you have the infrastructure you need to get started. If there are no options with the local churches, is there a vacant lot in the neighborhood or a parking lot for a business you can use on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon?  If so, you have the infrastructure you need to get started.

Begin with a community gathering.  A block party is a great way to open doors.  To register for a door prize, a person has to fill out a survey.  From that survey and the conversations you have with people, you can assess where to move next in ministry.

Transformational ministry doesn’t need great infrastructure.  It needs people who are willing to make unlikely friends. It needs people who are willing to spend time with other people.  It needs people who are willing to risk broken hearts and disappointments in order to experience the shared joy of transformed lives.  It needs people who are willing to be transformed themselves.

God’s grace to you,

Steve Jennings, Executive Director

How Long Will You Hide?

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? Psalm 13:1 (NIV)

David, the King of Israel and psalmist,  penned these words about 3,000 years ago, but some things never change. If you live long enough, chances are you will go through at least one time of trouble that will leave you feeling the same way.

You know what it’s like, don’t you? You feel stuck in a hole with no way out. It beats you down. It takes a toll on your mind, body and soul. You feel overwhelmed, frustrated, drained, desperate and angry all at the same time.

It’s awful.

For most of us this pain, and the situation that causes it, will pass. But others get no reprieve.  Broken relationships, addiction, chronic sickness, long-term unemployment and poverty can drive people into the dark pit of despair for a lifetime.

How do they respond? They adapt. Their tough situation in life becomes the “new normal” and they learn how to live in their dark place. They try and fail to “get over the hump” so often that they give up. Once they reach this state of mind, any efforts they make to improve their lives are tainted by the expectation that they will fail again. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

I can’t count how many homeless people I have worked with over the last 25 years who have given up trying to get out of their situations. They have embraced the belief that God has hidden His face from them and will forget them forever. For them, it takes a bonfire instead of a spark to light the fire of hope.

And yet that fire can still be lit, even in the heart of someone who has been homeless for 10, 20 or 30 years. I have had the unspeakable joy of seeing it happen.

That is where you and I come in. We can light the fire through friendship, exploring possibilities, re-igniting dreams and showing them that maybe- just maybe- God hasn’t forgotten them after all.

God’s grace to you,

Steve Jennings, Executive Director

Fly By Evangelism

I watched the small group of young adults huddle in the corner of McPherson Square, just two blocks from the White House.  They each had a small paper bag filled with something.  After some excited discussion, they prayed and started walking toward groups of homeless people scattered throughout the park.  They reached into their bags, handed everyone something and said a couple of words.  Within 5 minutes they had completed their task and left the park.


One by one, most of the homeless men in the park either dropped their new treasure on the ground or tossed it into a trash can.  The “treasure” was a gospel tract.  It was the “This Was Your Life” tract.  I looked around the park to see if anybody was reading the tract they were given.  Not a single person was reading it.


At that moment, I was embarrassed for Jesus.  Have we learned nothing from His example?  Look at each encounters He had with people; the woman at the well, the 10 lepers, the rich, young ruler, the blind beggar, the lame man by the pool.  He invested His time in each of these people and met them at their point of need.  By meeting them at their point of need most of them believed in Him.  OK, so the rich young ruler walked away.  It just goes to show you that some peoples’ hearts are hardened to the point where they can’t change.  Accept it and move on.


Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately) we don’t have the ability to peer into the peoples’ souls.  So it may take us a little longer than our Lord to figure out a person’s real needs.  But when we meet those needs, we earn the right to share the Gospel in power.


During Advent, we read with nostalgia the words from John’s Gospel: “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”  The Word of God must still become flesh to poor and hurting people before they can turn their troubles, fears, hearts and lives to the One who, better than any of us, can turn their lives around.  God’s Word becomes flesh through us.  Do you want to win the hearts of poor people for Christ?  You show them Christ first.  Then you can fill in the blanks with words.


God’s grace to you,


Steve Jennings