COVID Era Accelerated Church’s Outreach
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“For a lot of people and many churches, the pandemic caused a lot of harm,” says pastor Kevin D. Foster, who planted the church with his wife, Ellen, nearly 18 years ago. “But for us as a church it had the opposite effect in terms of our mission.”
That’s because LifeBridge embraced the challenge of ministering to its community in new ways. In mid-2020 during California’s strict COVID-19 lockdowns, the church began offering drive-up curbside prayer and food giveaways, turning its “sanctuary into a storehouse” and forging a long-term partnership with a local food bank to feed people. LifeBridge fed more than 50,000 people during the pandemic alone, Foster says, and still distributes large amounts of food, with volunteers delivering the fare in-person twice a month to 110 senior citizens’ homes.
LifeBridge then decided to create more community-based outreaches.
“It goes to our theology that we don’t want to just impact people for heaven, which will always be most important, but to impact them on earth, too, by lifting them economically and socially,” says Foster, 50.
LifeBridge opened the Mint Thrift secondhand store, which offers used furniture, clothing, toys, jewelry, and other items in great condition. The church made the store its grocery distribution point.
“The community has really gotten on board with it,” Foster says.
In 2021, LifeBridge won a “Frontline Hero — Community Hero” award from Fresno County.
“That sent us to another place in our community, and the Lord opened doors for us,” Foster says.
Today, a much bigger project is on the horizon, involving the construction of nearly 100 homes for the needy in Fresno.
Foster says through a series of divine interventions and miracles, and with outside guidance from CityServe, an AG-affiliated compassion ministry, LifeBridge’s ACTS Foundation (Actively Coming Together Selflessly) is partnering with the City of Fresno to apply for a $25 million grant from the state to build a new 96-unit, modular housing complex in Fresno. The units, which resemble apartments, are quick to construct and cost less than other types of accommodation. If approved, the ACTS Foundation will be the community’s owner-operator and “provide wraparound services, partnering with a homeless services provider,” according to Foster.
He hopes to employ residents at the church’s event center north of town. That facility, leased in 2020 and purchased in 2021, hosts 100 to 200 community events per year, including quinceañeras, weddings, and retirement parties. It also provides finances for the church, serves as LifeBridge’s north campus, and creates jobs for people in the community.
“We’ve seen people come to our church because of the event center and give their lives to Jesus,” says Foster.
At a wedding there last year, the bride and groom, both gang members, connected personally with Foster and began attending LifeBridge with their children, and gave their lives to the Lord.
“You can see the transformation in lives,” says Robin L. Nino, 34, director of the event center and longtime church staff member. “We’ve been able to reach people who would not have set foot in a church normally.”
For Foster, the changes since the impact of COVID-19 have been nothing short of transformational.
“The pandemic has taught us that the success of a church should be measured by how well it engages different facets of the community Monday through Saturday,” he says. LifeBridge had three employees and one church campus in 2020, and now employs more than 40 people and operates two campuses, a thrift store, and a nonprofit organization.