Empty Building, Packed Sunday: Innovative Ministry Approach Gains Traction in Ohio
By Carl Stagner
Innovative? Yes. Unconventional? No doubt about it. Though no longer a best-kept-secret approach to loving service for God and neighbor (amen!), the decision to vacate the church premises on a Sunday morning in favor of ministry activity “outside the four walls” doesn’t just happen anywhere. Years after the ministry trend gained traction across the United States and Canada, people remain in need of a smile, a word of hope, a demonstration of love, and a prayer. As long as good can be accomplished, Meadow Park Church of God in Columbus, Ohio, will do it. So, again this year, they opted to spread out across their community with a wide variety of intentional acts of kindness—all in the name of Jesus.
On July 9, 2023, the Columbus congregation observed, “The Church Has Left the Building.” The popular, provocative description of Meadow Park’s initiative reminded participants, and informed the community, that the church is not the building. But, as Mark Krenz, lead pastor of Meadow Park notes, “Our goal is not to promote the church or ask for anything. If people ask why we bought their meal, paid for their gas, gave them some water, a candy bar, flowers, or quarters for their laundry, we just tell them we’re sharing the love of Jesus.”
For six years, Meadow Park Church of God has conducted what they call “Live Love Days.” These events provide coordinated means for congregants to live out God’s love via service projects of various types. Last year was the first year they opted to involve Sunday in the effort. “To conclude a summer message series called ‘Beyond Our Walls,’ Pastor Mark explains, “we decided to ‘live love’ for our community on a Sunday morning. We called it ‘The Church Has Left the Building.’”
Kyle Younkman, outreach and communications pastor at Meadow Park, details the nuts and bolts of the experience: “‘The Church Has Left the Building’ encompassed a variety of projects designed to engage the community and serve others. With a wide range of projects, over thirty in total, that engaged the community in unexpected ways, or directly served to meet needs, there was no shortage of projects that were part of this remarkable event. We engaged the community through projects like the Aldi Cart-Buy, paying for shoppers’ carts and providing them with quarters, stopping at local Starbucks to pay for customer’s coffees, or ambushing families at a park and handing out popsicles. We served in other ways, like cleaning up local schools, packing care packages for local fire stations and EMS personnel, and helping other partner organizations in the area with some of their critical needs.”
Time after time, example after example, both church and community come away from the experience blessed. Participants from the congregation express enthusiasm for the opportunity to engage the community with surprising, not-so-random acts of kindness that consistently brighten the day for so many people on the receiving end of a blessing. The consistent takeaway from efforts like this is the value of stepping out of one’s comfort zone to bless others—others who, also, hold infinite value to their Creator.
“Our worship on this day,” Pastor Mark explains, “is not focused on singing or hearing a message, but on leaving the church and tangibly blessing people in fun, small ways. After fanning out all over town in teams, everyone returns to the church. We share a meal and have open-mic to hear stories of how we experienced God working. This is one of my favorite parts of the day. It’s so powerful to hear person after person share about these ‘chance’ encounters that deeply moved people. One young man shared about his group approaching two women who pulled up to the gas station and offering to pay their gas. One of the women broke down in tears and said she was there with her friend because she didn’t have enough money for gas to get to work, and asked her friend to pay for her gas. God knew exactly what she needed! We then prayed with these women.”
July 9, 2023, was a different kind of Sunday at Meadow Park Church of God, but it was a good kind of different. Liturgy can wait while love leads, it’s okay! After all, dozens of lives were touched as people who represent Jesus loved like Jesus loved.
Learn more about the Church of God movement at www.JesusIsTheSubject.org.
Feature (top) photo: Team serving at the local laundry facility.