Loving in Ways that Matter: FL Church Empowers Difference-Makers
By Michelle D. Williams
In 2004, Kristen Doty, a new Christian, began attending Sawgrass Community Church in Hollywood, Florida, with her family. She watched God transform her life and family through this ministry. As the years went by, she began serving in various roles, eventually becoming ordained and serving as the associate pastor. Through a battle with brain cancer, she remained committed to ministering and loving others in ways that mattered—this is the purpose statement of Sawgrass Community Church. Never in her wildest dreams had she anticipated becoming the senior pastor of the church that had so dramatically shaped her life.
Sawgrass is uniquely positioned to reach the community because they are a church without a building. According to Pastor Kristen, “One of the things that is exciting about not having a building is that it is easier to realize your mission of bringing the gospel to the people, rather than waiting for the people to come to you.”
Sawgrass has nine different outreach ministries. From a laundromat outreach to a food pantry, to filling and distributing “essential care packages” among the “hopefuls” (their term for the homeless), these ministries are committed to loving in ways that matter. Intent on developing a “culture of Kingdom-centered servants,” Sawgrass recently launched its “Come Visit Uncle Louie” ministry. This program began as a response to a need: a loving nephew was making long-distance calls, looking for a church that would pray with his elderly uncle Jim, who was alone in the hospital with COVID-19. Pastor Debbie Frederick, also at Sawgrass, responded to the call and prayed with Uncle Jim every day until his eventual passing. At that time, the church was made aware of Jim’s elderly brother Louie who had no local family. The church then adopted Uncle Louie and began working to help him connect with his neighbors, so that he wouldn’t feel alone and also recognize that people cared.
On Sunday mornings, neighbors can “Come visit Uncle Louie” and receive basic grocery supplies. This helps Louie by allowing him to serve and connect with others, even in the face of his personal barriers. Pastor Kristen states, “The transformation in Louie has been incredible. Together, we pray, we distribute food, and we grow to know each other. Every week, as we leave, he says, ‘God has been so good to me, you guys have been such a blessing,’ to which the Sawgrass team always replies, ‘God is good and you’re a blessing to us, too, Louie!’” For Pastor Kristen, this is “the Kingdom on display.”
As of this writing, they had just completed their tenth week and fed over 300 families. Now, the neighbors come and check on Louie throughout the week, and some even come and help distribute food on Sundays. Sawgrass plans to launch another “Come Visit” program soon in a new neighborhood allowing others the same opportunity to love in ways that matter.
The beauty of the “Come Visit” program is that it not only allows Uncle Louie to serve, but the members of Sawgrass Community Church have the opportunity to give by collecting, transporting, and helping Louie distribute these groceries. It offers everyone an opportunity to love in ways that matter.
Sawgrass Community Church is one of several congregations this year to receive a Change the Story grant. In these dire times communities are experiencing desperate need, and churches are struggling to respond. The Change the Story Fund exists to help congregations meet local, critical needs. Your gift of as little as $10 will provide micro grants that empower churches to Change the Story in their communities. Learn more and invest with your generous gift today at www.jesusisthesubject.org/change-the-story.
Help churches like these respond to urgent needs in their communities as a result of COVID-19:
Rev. Michelle D. Williams is the former dean of students at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and a graduate of Anderson University School of Theology and Christian Ministry. She is a writer, speaker, and blogger at www.inpursuitofshalom.com.