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

The New Invisible People – They’re Closer Than You Think.

You pass by them all the time and yet you probably never gave them a thought. I know I didn’t. They’re invisible, you know. Or at least they were to me until I discovered them. But even though you don’t see them you can probably find them in most towns and cities in the U.S. Who are they?

They are the “motel homeless” who live in low budget motels that offer weekly and monthly room rentals. O sure, they have a roof over their heads, but can you really call that a home? We’ve seen as many as 9 people living in one room. Imagine what that would be like day after day.

These motel homeless people work at temp jobs, low wage jobs, short term jobs or no jobs. Some are disabled or elderly. Others have injuries or conditions that aren’t serious enough to qualify for disability, but make it more difficult to find a job. Most of the ones who work are at jobs where they don’t get paid if they don’t show up to work. If they get sick, they’re in trouble.

Even in a good week, the room rent eats up 80 -90% of their income. Some weeks they come up short because they continually have to choose between rent, food and medicine.

Just like homeless people on the street, they defy stereotypes. I have met former business owners, published authors and people with college degrees at these motels. And, just like their less educated neighbors, they are subject to the great equalizer of hardship.

In the last two years I can’t count the number of motel homeless people who said to me, “I never thought I would end up like this.” It seems that once they get knocked down to living like that, one thing after another goes wrong to keep them there. For example, Christina and Michael had already been at one of the motels longer than they had planned when Michael was rushed to the hospital vomiting blood and with blood sugar levels of over 300. His recuperation will take a while. Until then, Christina, with two small children, is frantic with worry about what to do.

Most of them pay more in room rent than they would if they had an apartment, but because of job instability, bad (or no) credit and the inability to put together the money for a security deposit, they are stuck until they can grab that extra blessing that lets them make the move.

Yet despite the hardships, the people I’ve met in these motels have shown me an incredible resilience and faith. I have seen a tenacity and toughness that inspires me, and I see the the hand of God working on my heart as I learn anew the lesson of gratitude for all things. The people we serve at these motels are so grateful for some laundry detergent or toilet paper that I am humbled and ashamed of myself for the things I take for granted.

Since Teens Opposing Poverty began its motel ministry in 2009, I have been inspired, heart-broken, and blessed as I have shared in the lives of these wonderful people who are no longer invisible to me. I pray they will no longer be invisible to you.

God’s grace to you,

Steve Jennings