Reflecting On One Year of Bridge Church
This week we marked one year of Bridge Church in West St. Tammany. 83 Worship Gatherings, 4 Faith in Action Sundays, $25,000+ for missions and ministries, 20+ decisions for Christ, and 1 incredible start for a faith family gathered to give ourselves away for the sake of our community and world.
Two questions we asked at the outset in seeking to plant a church in West St. Tammany was, “where is this community in need of transformation” and “where is the church not present and how can we engage that population segment in our community?” (see my post on good questions for Assessing the Need for New Churches in the South). With that in mind, here are a few highlights for me that I hope propel us into the future:
1. St. Tammany Parish Jail / Set Free Fellowship – One of our goals was to have a sustained discipling presence at our local jail, home to 1,100+ men and women in need of the renewal, recovery, and restoration. As with most local jails, a majority of our inmates are local and a majority will be neighbors again within five years. This year, we were able to walk with 30+ trustees through Celebrate recovery and we launched a weekly Worship Gathering called Set Free Fellowship, that meets at the Work Release Center every Sunday morning. Next month we will launch Celebrate Recovery for around 160 inmates. We’ve also been able to connect with several families on the outside with the possibility of seeing entire family systems transformed forever.
2. Oak Villa Mobile Home Park – The largest Mobile Home Park in West St. Tammany is home to 400+ residents. Some with critical needs and many more without resources to meet basic needs. We started in January ’09 by building a relationship with the management of the park, taking food to the very neediest, and throwing block parties for kids and families. We’ve also, built wheelchair ramps, provided rental assistance, conducted home Bible Studies, and held Back Yard Bible Clubs. Multi-housing ministry statistics show that by simply reaching out to a multi-housing complex you can reach 4% of the population, but by taking church to the complex you can reach 30%. So, this week we will get the lights turned on to a Mobile Home provided by one of our partnering church, Fairview Baptist in Coushatta, in the hopes of reaching 30%+. This week we also have the honor of seeing six individuals from the park celebrate new life in Christ through baptism.
3. Intentional Engagement at local Festivals – Almost every weekend in Southeast Louisiana is an opportunity to throw a party or festival. And thousands gather regularly at Festivals in all of our Northshore communities. In October, Bridge Church gave up a Saturday and Sunday to serve the Madisonville Wooden Boat Festival, by painting faces, taking souvenir pics, hosting entertainment in the children’s area, and even moving our Worship Gathering to the Festival on Sunday in order to be ready to serve. We’ve also incarnated at the Columbia Street Block Party, holiday events at the YMCA, and a few other community events. This has been a great, unique, memorable way to meet a lot of unchurched people, build relationships with community leaders, get some name recognition buzz in the community, and have a great time as a group. I’m so committed to this we’ve even considered requiring a face-painting and balloon animal class for membership in our church.
4. Intentional Engagement in “Pure Religion” – James 1:27 defines one aspect of pure religion as taking care of widows and orphans in their distress or caring for those who can’t care for themselves. As a young Pastor and Christian for 20 years, I’ve learned that getting involved in ministry to others is a must for developing as a disciple and making disciples. Also, I’ve learned that in every community there are those who can’t help themselves and won’t ask for help. We’ve sought to create a culture of generosity and service through responsiveness to the needs of those who can’t help themselves. I’ve taught our team that the filters for our decision making will be: 1) Proximity to the needs of people, 2) Responsiveness to the needs of people, 3) and radical, sacrificial generosity as a normative practice. These ideas have led us to budget a large sum for Faith in Action projects, to partner and get to know leaders of community organizations that help the neediest, and to not simply look at the bottom line, because helping those who can’t help you in return will not always bring an earthly profit. This year, we’ve paid for bug service for an elderly man that was overwhelmed and had respiratory problems. We’re working on a plan to get a new gas line and heat for an elderly widow whose gas system has been condemned by the city. And individual members of Bridge Church are finding ways to engage through volunteering at local non-profits or using their job to meet the needs of those in need.
Looking forward to year two and beyond. Thankful for partners in ministry and our new faith family on the Northshore.