BBQ Blessings: Oregon Outreach Offers Opportunities for Church-Community Connection
By Carl Stagner
Food fosters fellowship! In the case of River Street Church of God in Newberg, Oregon, BBQ breaks down barriers. Over the past three years, the neighborhood barbecue has been a signature event for the church, offering opportunities for church-community connection not otherwise realized. Building a bridge between the congregation and those outside the four walls is not easy, but this year’s event—coinciding with a welcome-back event at the nearby school—demonstrated to even the most skeptical that their local Jesus-followers care not about furthering an institution, but about serving and loving those around them.
When churches like River Street try something new, favorable results aren’t always immediate. Patience is required and, as the Oregon church knows firsthand, faith that God’s timing is perfect means service in the kingdom of God continues regardless of visible results. But numerous visible results have indeed come, and though neighborhood participation for the first couple attempts could be described as “minimal,” Pastor Doug Balzer takes it all in stride.
“We were able to meet neighbors whom we had not connected with previously,” Pastor Doug notes. “If the qualifiers are laughter and fun, the neighborhood indeed showed up…. Probably the most significant indicator of success for us has been people’s recognition of us as we walk through the neighborhood, grocery stores, and restaurants. They are still thanking us for having the event and hope we do it again in the future.”
The local elementary school function was helpful to the church’s visibility for their barbecue event. Though an official count wasn’t obtained, over 235 meals were served as children enjoyed the lure of a bounce house. Despite some negative perception of the church related to litter and evidence of drug abuse on and along the property, barriers to fellowship were broken through loving service to the community. And while the challenges that come with urban ministry and homeless ministry are real, the church continues to do something about it.
“River Street Church desires to be a tangible expression of the kingdom of God to the community in practical ways,” Doug reflects. “A Jesus people for the sake of others—living out the way of Jesus—announcing his kingdom’s presence—and working for measurable change in the community.”
Through that lens, the Newberg congregation regularly hosts Wednesday night “community simple suppers, where everyone is welcome at the table.” The event is coordinated in partnership with three other churches, offering meaningful, nourishing ministry of over 500 meals per month. The church also provides food and supplies for a drop-in center that supports the homeless, marginalized, and others facing financial insecurities. They routinely collect sleeping bags, tents, blankets, tarps and clothing for persons in need of such basics. They even provide a shower open on Wednesday and by appointment on other days of the week. Partnerships with local agencies provide further access to benefits that express tangible love to the under-resourced in their neighborhood and beyond.
“We asked the question, ‘Would the community miss River Street Church if it disappeared?’” Pastor Doug concludes. “The answer is yes, it would. Why? It would leave a significant gap in helping to meet the needs of a community area with serious insecurities. So, we look to the future with hope, faith, and trust in God.”
Learn more about the Church of God movement at www.JesusIsTheSubject.org.