The Church Has Left the Building
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The previous Friday, a student at my children’s high school in Rocky Mount, North Carolina, had committed suicide. No one saw it coming.
On Saturday, two kids playing at a local church’s playground were shot and killed by stray gunfire from warring gangs. Our community was devastated.
And on Sunday evening, my aunt found her son’s lifeless body hanging from an extension cord tied to the basement ceiling. My cousin had lost all hope.
Amid the grief and fear, I was struggling to reconcile this tragic series of events with God’s goodness. I trusted the Lord, but I did not understand His plan. Still, I knew I needed to press on in faith.
As a youth pastor, I led hundreds of students. These young people were looking to me for encouragement and guidance. What would I tell them?
Even as I prayed for strength, I began sobbing uncontrollably. In desperation, I finally cried aloud, “Lord, help me!”
This has always been my go-to prayer in times of trouble. Within minutes, I felt such a tangible sense of peace I knew it was from God.
In my mind, I saw a vast body of water. I sensed the Lord saying it was a sea of sorrow, too large for any individual to navigate alone. As I pondered this, I saw small ripples forming on the water’s surface.
God spoke to my heart: “I want you to become a ripple maker in the lives of hurting people and teach others to become ripple makers.”
During that moment, my ministry assignment became clear. Going to church and serving the people who showed up was no longer enough. I love and appreciate local churches, but I knew God was calling me to a unique ministry.
I felt a burden for people who were stumbling in darkness, individuals who had never experienced the light of the gospel. I could not shake the weight of their desperate plight.
Everywhere Christians go, the Church goes. So, I set out to take the Church to the spiritually lost people around me. Since I was already ministering to teens, I started by spending time in middle schools and high schools. As I got to know unchurched students, I quickly realized most of their parents were far from God.
My husband, Eric, and I launched a street church ministry, holding services in low-income communities. So many people responded to the messages and accepted Christ, we purchased an inflatable pool and started conducting neighborhood baptisms.
Later that year, I resigned my church staff position to focus exclusively on this untraditional form of ministry, which we called Ripple Effects. This ministry grew from a concept to a community center for people seeking to break cycles of despair and hopelessness.
Eventually, we expanded our programming to include transitional housing for homeless families, feeding programs for elderly and disabled people, second-chance education opportunities for at-risk youth, and personal development resources for adults.
We also opened a Ripple Effects Center in Oyugis, Kenya, offering programs similar to those in North Carolina. While we faithfully made ripples at home, God expanded our reach 8,000 miles away.
Wherever we go, our goal is sharing Christ’s love in word and deed. Jesus was always on the move, meeting people where they were and ministering to them with love and compassion. We left the church building to follow His example.
When COVID-19 hit and many churches shuttered temporarily, we ramped up our outdoor services and compassion programs. We also led Bible studies in the homeless shelter and hosted community events in a nearby park.
During this time, I was completing my doctoral degree in ministry. As part of my dissertation, I examined the practices of the Early Church. The more I researched, the more I realized God never designed the Church to remain behind walls.
I am grateful for the beautiful buildings and comfortable environments we call churches, but I now see such facilities as places believers gather so we can become equipped to scatter and fulfill the Great Commission.
There is a lost and needy world just beyond the doors of our churches. People are waiting for Christians to leave the building.
This article originally appeared in the summer 2023 Influence magazine. Used with permission.