By Sharon Mager, Embrace Baltimore
BALTIMORE, Md.—Years ago, when the McCormick Company was a well-known landmark on Light Street in South Baltimore, the harbor had a pungent fragrance as the scent of various spices mingled together and diffused a distinctive enticing, almost exotic smell. The spice company eventually moved to Sparks, leaving behind a great picture of Baltimore. People of all nationalities, ethnicities, races, at various socio-economic levels, mingle together to give the city its incredible diversity. That mix provides Baltimore church planters a cornucopia of ministry opportunities as well as a bounty of challenges.
“There is no one-size-fits-all strategy or planter,” Troy Bush, Embrace Baltimore, director of church starting, explained.
“We have church starters who have had much experience and for some this is their first. Some have degrees from Bible colleges while others attended seminaries. We have Anglo church starters, African American starters and ethnic starters. We have all ages, from the early 30’s through their 70’s.
Each church start is unique. Some began with a few couples working together in an area; others were built on the foundations laid by laborers who are now senior saints that want to pass the baton on to the next generation. There are single campus churches, satellite churches, multi-campus churches, house churches—all with the goal of sharing the gospel and making disciple-making disciples.
The Garden Community Church seeks to be indigenous. Church planter Joel Kurz moved from the Eastern Shore to live in Bolton Hill, an area where two socio-economic groups come together and where affluence and crime coexist. Kurz led his church recently on a “trail of tears.”
Church members visited five areas within a mile of the church where there had been recent murders and prayed for the community and the victims’ families. They gave out flyers ahead of time so the neighborhood would know what they were doing and inviting them to join the church in prayer.
“We received a whole lot of great feedback from people who saw us and appreciated it. It opened up a lot of avenues of conversation.”
Grace Place is a church start that arose from the embers of Woolford Memorial Church members’ 65 years of ministry. The church had dwindled to fewer than 30 and members were praying for wisdom on how to proceed.
Meanwhile, God was preparing James Pope, pastor of North Arundel Church (NAC). Pope was praying for a way to reach more people and was considering the multi-church concept. Pope discussed his vision with Troy Bush and Bob Mackey, Embrace Baltimore executive director, and was introduced to the idea of giving new life to Woolford Memorial Church in Dundalk.
Woolford became Grace Place, a contemporary satellite of NAC. Dallas Baumgarner is the campus pastor.
Now, Grace Place is not only flourishing, it is now offering space to another Embrace Church start, Disciples Fellowship International Church (DIFC), Baltimore, started by Disciples Fellowship International Church, Gaithersburg. DFIC meets on Sunday afternoons. Stephen Magua, a native of Kenya, is the planter.
The church members go door-to-door ministering in O’Donnell Heights, a poor, drug infested Baltimore neighborhood. Magua said sixteen people have come to Christ through that ministry.
“It has been God,” Magua said. “It has been amazing to see people broken down and saying to us, ‘I’ve been waiting for someone to share the good news with me.’”
Meeting in a community recreation center flanked by bars on every corner, New Hope Church serves breakfast and gives away bag lunches each Sunday at their Curtis Bay site. New Hopers, under the leadership fo planter Larry Baker, strive to truly give hope to this inner city area by offering community festivals, sports camps, “Free Markets” (yard sales where the merchandise is free) and community beautification projects.
Church members also donate school supplies and Christmas gifts and share Christ through weekly small groups and worship services.
The Light Church, planted by Roger Kim, in Baltimore’s arts and entertainment district, is both a church and an art gallery, regularly featuring the work of local artists and participating in such events as Artscape and local parades. The church also works closely with the Maryland Institute College of Art.
At the Village Church in Hampden, members partner with the community doing outreach such as cleaning a local park and repairing playground equipment.
Church planter Dan Hyun is finding that as they intentionally engage their neighborhood, people are responding.
“More and more people are joining us to see what The Village is doing. I think it reflects a spiritual dryness that’s been here for a long time,” Hyun said.
Samuel Cho and his wife, Young, are Korean but felt God leading them to start a Nepalese Church, Nepal Church of Baltimore, and more recently, a Bhutani church. The couple minister to refugees, who spread the word through their families and friends. The Chos have taken mission trips to Nepal and India.
Infinity Church started a plant in northeast Baltimore to reach the students of Morgan State University. Over 200 people attended the Sept. 13 launch.
The church has evangelistic block parties, sports camps, talent shows and other events to capture the attention of the community and to make and build relationships. They’ve partnered with local schools to build shelves and bulletin boards and they’re connecting together through small groups.
Recently they did a “Luv’n Laundry” event. The church paid for and helped students and other community members do their laundry. While the clothes spin, church members hope to get to know their neighbors and share where the Spirit leads them.
Captivate Christian Church, led by church planter Tally Wilgis, links a suburban and city church together, seeking to make inroads in those areas as the suburban members join arms with their city “family,” providing resources and support to reach both areas for Christ.
Baptist Church of Baltimore, an Hispanic church, started in October 2008 with an outreach event giving away breakfasts to men who stand on Broadway Avenue in the mornings hoping someone who needs their labor will stop and offer them a job for the day. Church planter Isaac Moncada said church members wanted to establish a first contact with the workers, get to know them and then share the gospel.
“The results of this event were positive,” Moncada said. “The owner of a restaurant came to us and offered an area that we could use to have meetings. He was touched by our activity since he had had the same experience, waiting for somebody to help. We were having meetings there for almost three months in the restaurant.
About three weeks ago, some of the people that attend mentioned that they would feel more comfortable meeting in a park or the street.
We listened to them, and since the first meeting in the street the attendance has increased. We start with prayer, worship, sharing the Bible, at the end we pray for them and their needs. Several people accepted Jesus Christ when the gospel was presented. During the week we call some of them in a way to nurture the relationship.”
Moncada explained the men often live in houses with up to ten people. They are without families or established jobs. They accept the gospel eagerly, Moncada said, and they don’t reject it.
The church hopes they can partner with a Baptist church in the area to have Friday meetings.
Church Planter Ellis Prince said The Gallery Church seeks to reach the communities of Washington Hill, Perkins and Douglas Homes, Harbor East, Fells Point, Butcher’s Hill, Canton and Highlandtown.
“By merely naming the communities we are trying to reach, it exposes the unique nature of the ministry God has given us. Each neighborhood is different in just about every way one could think. We believe that it is our responsibility and calling to be used by God to bring a bit of heaven here to earth in the form of a diverse but unified expression of His Church here in the city,” Prince said.
Church members show love to the neighborhood by cleaning parks and they work with schools, painting and cleaning.
“We have served hundreds of hot dogs and hamburgers in Jesus’ name rather than saying, “Go and be filled.” We have played kickball games on fields that were once full of broken glass, trash, and used drug needles,” Prince said.
The church also participated with Hope Springs and the JAQUES Initiative to have what Prince said was the largest single-day HIV/AIDS testing that has ever been done in Baltimore. Of the 885 people tested, 32 were HIV positive and were connected to counseling and medical care.
“All the while, the volunteers are wearing bright blue t-shirts with the all-too-important question, ‘What if we decide everyone matters?’ We have been seeking to do anything that shows our community that they matter to us and to God. Everyone. No exceptions. As far as it being effective, I suppose it depends on how you define effectiveness. I think many are coming to see that they matter to God and to Gallery. That’s a pretty good start.”
Hamilton Community House Church members don’t limit themselves to meeting in houses. They also meet in coffee shops or a nearby park. Each Monday evening they gather in a different “kid-friendly” location. Church Planter Jeff Elkins said the church is geared to attract those disenfranchised from institutional church. Since there’s no building, people aren’t going to wander in. They come because of a relationship, because they’ve been invited. There’s no overhead, so the offering goes into community projects. Elkins said the church is very unique.
Additional church starting efforts are underway. A church for Portuguese-speaking people will start later this year. A mentoring and equipping process for African-American church starters will launch early next year with a goal that 15 candidate church starters will begin the process.
Troy Bush said a key factor is that while Embrace has been intentional about starting new churches they have put at the forefront making new disciples.
“We are not simply congregating those who are disenfranchised. Our primary focus has been engaging those who are not Christians–reaching them with the gospel, engaging them with love and compelling them to be followers of Jesus Christ.
“That’s what is at the heart of what we’re doing,” Bush said.
“I believe our church starting efforts will be fruitful and will stand the test of time.”