We pastored a traditional Vineyard church in Richmond, Virginia for many years, but felt a disconnect with where our family lived (predominantly low-income African-American community) and where our church was located (more affluent community). We desired more diversity, but it never emerged.
Then God dropped it on my heart to start a reading club for kids. Many of the children in our neighborhood struggle to make it through school. I asked a neighborhood kid named Matthew, who lived in nearby public housing, if he could help us invite some kids. It turns out a teacher had just told his third-grade brother that he was reading at a kindergarten level. The following Wednesday we got a pizza and had the young boy read to us. Over the next 2 years, this grew to an average of 30 children. We call the reading club “Matthew’s Place”.
While Matthew’s Place was taking off, we continued to pastor the Richmond Vineyard. At one point we said, “When we are ready for them, we’ll invite the children to church.” But soon they started inviting themselves. Before we knew it, we had 6-8 kids coming each week to church. God began to have us consider closing our church and start a church specifically for children. In March of 2016, the Richmond Vineyard transitioned to become The Bridge RVA, a church for children...and adults. Sounds crazy, right? But God gave us a vision to focus on kids and to see them valued, loved, and become disciples of Jesus. This looks like children and adults worshipping, learning, playing and eating together. It’s sometimes messy, but always joyful! On a typical Sunday, we gather for worship which includes singing, praying the Lord’s prayer, and silence and solitude (always an experience). Then we break into small groups and afterward we all share a meal.
How have you begun to reach out to the children in your community that don't attend your church? Here are a few things to think about as you do:
Be Attentive to God’s Call and Assignment
I believe God has heard the cries of these kids and He wants us to do something about it. He’s inviting people to join Him in this work. As we listen and respond to God’s invitation, the fruit follows.
A lot of churches do drive-by ministry. They pop in for a week or a few days. They do an act of mercy or host a VBS and then leave. It’s different to actually live among people. It allows you to build relationship and trust. With kids and their families, this takes time and intentionality. This is when you can see what’s really going on. Compassion emerges and you’re moved to take action. This action can result in a change of life trajectory.
Keep Showing Up
It’s God’s work and he supplies, but sometimes it’s hard. Kids push all your buttons, but that’s where God works in us as part of our formation too. It’s easy to see the children acting out, but if you look a little closer, you can also see the image of God. Because they have experienced so much trauma, neglect, and abandonment, consistency is a powerful force of love and healing in these young lives.
Tell Your Story
I post personal stories each week on Facebook and it connects with a lot of people who might be interested in supporting the ministry. Showing what your ministry is up to through your social network in a consistent way is important for communicating and advocating for these often invisible and stereotyped children.
Remember the Sabbath
Like in Isaiah 58, don’t forget the Sabbath. We take a day off each week and we believe that's where our life and work flow from. Working with the poor or marginalized can be overwhelming. We should remember that the big picture is God’s work; We are only responsible for our assignment. Keeping the Sabbath helps keep that in perspective.
I believe God wants to bring revival through these kids with the potential to affect their families, friends, and schools. These children are all around us, in every city in the country and we believe this work is easily replicated throughout our nation, impacting thousands of children. The harvest is indeed plentiful.
If you’re interested in learning more about Matthew's Place and the Bridge RVA, you can email Ken or Becky. You’re even invited to join them for a week and visit the church to learn more about the ministry they do.