Virginia Church to Community: “We’re Here to Help!”
By Carl Stagner
Editor’s note—Every congregation is called to reach their community for Christ. But that’s not always easy. Here’s how LifeGivers has helped a pastor and congregation find exciting new ways to make that happen.
When David Smith arrived in Spotsylvania, Virginia, to accept the pastorate at Gordon Road Church of God last November, he hit the ground running. The congregation had just celebrated its 23rd anniversary the previous month, and was primed for greater impact on their community. While already engaging regularly in a variety of ministries turning their faith into action throughout the year, the church was also poised to receive a shepherd who would not only feed the flock, but also train them to love those outside the flock effectively. Under the leadership of their new pastor, the congregation soon embraced a theme that would remind themselves, and communicate to their neighbors, a central purpose for their existence: “We’re here to help.”
The first thing Pastor David did to communicate this message to the community was establish what they’ve now come to refer to as a “welcoming impression.” While Gordon Road Church of God is located in a rural area, it is situated along a high-traffic route not far from Fredericksburg and is used by commuters to Washington, D.C. With few opportunities for truckers to turn around as needed, the church parking lot became an easily accessible solution. Not only did this pose a problem to the lot’s surface, but also opened up the church property to vandalism. In response, and with good intent to steward the property well, the congregation installed a chain and signage to discourage turnarounds. Over time, the unintended consequence was a signal to passersby that guests might not be welcome.
The chains had to come down and the welcome had to go up; these chains no longer hold back the church’s ambition to communicate, “We’re here to help.” Additionally, a new church sign is in the works that will enable the church to update messaging as needed. Not only has the church ceased to discourage guests on their property, they’re also actively inviting visitors for drive-through prayer one to two times per week.
“Putting a chain across our driveway and posting a sign discouraging using the driveway/parking lot as a turnaround,” David reflects, “suggested an unhealthy protective attitude about resources (cf. Matt. 25:24–25) rather than a ministry-minded attitude that understands what we have is the Lord’s to be used for his purposes of helping the needy.”
Though the onset of the coronavirus crisis threatened to interrupt the church’s progress, it could not derail the mission of this family of faith. It wasn’t easy, and several plans had to be delayed or adjusted. But Gordon Road Church of God, noting the need for ministry would only grow during the pandemic, scrambled to connect parishioners online. Amazingly, the church began reaching more people online than it had in person prior to the pandemic; with so many regular activities and events canceled, family members confined to their homes instead tuned in to worship services broadcast over the Internet. Then, when families inside and outside the church felt the brunt of the economic collapse, Gordon Road Church of God began meeting needs with spiritual and financial assistance.
With some COVID-19 restrictions easing, the church continues to bless their community with drive-through prayer, and soon with “Free Ice Cream Fridays.” Plans are underway for a community picnic to reach residents of a local apartment complex, as well as a back-to-church Sunday cookout, and several other local and international mission projects.
“We believe everyone bears the image of God and is valuable to him,” Pastor David reflects. “We desire to convey this through all our interactions with the community because we follow Jesus who came to serve rather than to be served (Luke 19:10). He has gifted us for the ministry of reconciliation and blessed us with the opportunity to partner with him to serve his purposes. When we serve, we bless the poor, the sick, the suffering, and the sinner to know freedom from sin and healing for their soul. In this way we are blessed to share in the grace and goodness of God, both now and in the new creation.”
The hard work and passion for community outreach hardwired into the DNA of Pastor David Smith and Gordon Road Church of God is capturing national attention. In fact, LifeGivers, the online equipping and resourcing program of Church of God Ministries, recently awarded them the first-ever LifeGivers grant of $1,000 for community outreach. David, who has also taken LifeGivers courses, including one titled “Effectively Reaching Your Community” (led by Melissa Pratt), is ever grateful for the learning experience and the support.
“I was very pleased to know that God was showing us favor,” David reflects. “I had shared some of these plans with the church and knew that the ‘bean-counters’ would be concerned about the cost. So, I challenged the church to commit to doing what God allows us to do, and pray that he would provide the resources for us to do his will, reassuring the church that we would do what God resources us to do. The church is small and has been under some financial stress for a while. But what I witness, and surely others must see it too, God provides!”
LifeGivers offers flexible, online courses for any lifestyle, on a variety of ministry-related topics. The fall semester is fast-approaching. Learn more and sign up today at www.choglifegivers.org.
*Feature (top) photo: Drive-through prayer at Gordon Road Church of God.