planting a neighborhood church in our neighborhoods

Yesterday I attended a day-conference with multiple church planters from the Philly region.  Our Church Planter Community gathers monthly to discuss issues germane to Northeast gospel-driven culturally apropos church plants, to pray, and to have round-table discussions with planters about particular struggles they may be facing.  It is a highlight of my time here in PA, to be sure. 

At the community, Rob Burns – Pastor of Realife Church in Philly (SBC) spoke to us about his neighborhood church plant in the Bridesburg neighborhood of the city.  Much I could say about his presentation/case study… but I pass on to you only my renewed passion to have a West Valley church plant that sees the west side of the Lehigh Valley as our Jerusalem wherein we are called to contextualize the gospel AND live our lives.  In fact, who knows what the Lord has in store… but the day before Rob’s presentation, I became aware of an office space in our town of Emmaus that is on the mainstreet drag.  Right on the triangle.  Walking distance from my house!  It is in the ideal spot in our neighborhood to have a church presence.  I’ve even spoken with Ray, the owner of the sweet new coffee shop, Mas Cafe, about how we might try to settle an office two doors down and then bring him an insane amount of business.  Are there any church meetings any more that aren’t in good coffee shops?  Kidding but serious. 

I can’t get out of my mind where I should walk and talk all the days of my life here in the West Valley.  I know that God has called us to a target area of 40,000 people (East Penn).  I know that he has already dropped people throughout that region that we might have a multiple-neighborhood presence.  I hope and pray we will have a worship location more in the heart of Lower Macungie (have to know our geography to understand).  But I am going nuts thinking about the life change and accountability increase (surreal really) that would come if we had a church office in an old mainstreet retail space next to the coffee shops, across the street from the pub and on the very route that hosts community parades and Christmas tree lightings, etc.  In fact, yesterday while in the “two door down” Mas cafe, I studied amongst 5 high school kids working on a project, 2 college students studying, and about a dozen other people in and out.  That alone means nothing… except that there is a spot in our target where people just hang out.  Why not have a presence there!  If God has put it in his story for us to lease that office space for the church plant – it would most certainly heighten our/my responsibility to be a neighborhood pastor of a church committed to bring the gospel to the people among whom I walk and talk every day (ahem, as I would walk back and forth from my house to the office).

O God, your plan alone.  Fog my dreams if I am not praying for neighborhood engagement with your life-transforming gospel more than I am hoping for a hip office next door to nice-smelling coffee beans. 

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One thought on “planting a neighborhood church in our neighborhoods

  1. Terrence Miller says:

    Jim,

    Caught up in your enthusiasm for a ‘different kind’ of church. The question of course is how do you contextualize the Gospel in the community through a storefront? I’m not sure what you have in mind but I’ll throw my two cents in.

    The first thing is that it takes revenue out of the city due to the tax loss. Many storefront churches are closed most of the week because they come from the paradigm that they are only churches and do not have anything to do with a business. Rather than the dichotomy, why not contextualize it, as ‘business is Christ’s business.’ After all you are in the heart of Emmaus’s commerce. So how does the storefront serve the business community and the residents as a business the lion’s share of the week? Having ‘robbed’ the city of tax revenue how does it put it back times 10 for the kingdom?

    Your connection with the local coffee shop sounds great and certainly is rooted in relationship and service. Perhaps you could create a Christian-based small business center or the like, to train people how to shape business and vocation into the image of Christ. This is lacking greatly in the church today. More so, you could tie it into organizations who serve people who are below or well below the average means of income, meeting an important need, then working with the local Chamber to place them in downtown businesses or create their own. You could use the space for worship on Sundays.

    It could also be a safe haven at night for prostitutes, drug addicts, the homeless and youth at risk. Certainly Emmaus has all of these problems. A storefront is visible and easily accessible. It could be ideal. Or it could be a shelter for runaways, even if it were only for a two-day stay while you collaborated with other organizations for placement. Some of these could be plugged into a business center. Homeboys in LA is a great example of this.

    You could also be a business during the week, perhaps run by students from different walks of life, especially those who are disadvantaged and would never be mentored or encouraged to start a business or find success and through a Kingdom worldview. Indeed it could be a business that sold only free-trade products, emphasizing Christ’s call to equally share our resources with others (in this case, emerging nations oppressed by U.S. trade tariffs and farming subsidies).

    It could be a place to provide tutoring and ESL classes fueled by local students and churches. Times Square Church in NYC puts together evangelism teems made of students who case the streets at night witnessing to kids roaming the streets. We have a group of believers, though spearheaded by a single church, made up of many denominations, doing that in Easton.

    Many churches and organizations in the west end of the LHV would love to partner with you on such projects.

    Though our storefront churches are closed most of the time in Easton, we have a couple of shopkeepers who clearly serve the city in wonderful ways. One pays for parking for one day a month for several parking spaces. They work out an arrangement with the city. Imagine paying for the parking meters in front of businesses other than your own, ‘just because.’ They also use their storefront to host benefits and concerts for local kids, keeping them involved and off the streets.

    I like your quip about the coffee shop but it does raise a concern. We are meeting too frequently in coffee shops or worse carefully select whom we engage or present over coffee. It would be wonderful if you could get the ‘right’ people to bring the ‘wrong’ people into the coffee shop, that is those who have no knowledge of what a latte is, or could afford one. Why not then bring the coffee to those who could not get to the coffee shop or the storefront?

    It is all about living incarnate lives, defying our cultural expectations. Our culture does not expect poor people in an upscale coffee shop, or a business that profits for other businesses, or certainly a church that contextualizes itself in the heart or commerce.

    I applaud your enthusiasm. Shock the world.

    Terrence Miller
    HopeUnseen

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