There's a reel of 8mm film shot in 1961 that follows a parade of members of the Church of the Nazarene in Iowa City as they move from their downtown church to a newly constructed facility on property expected to become an upscale, growing community.
With few exceptions, the faces in that procession were middle-class whites, confident that this fashionable church building would be a legacy for children and grandchildren for generations to come.
By 2002, however, an aging remnant was confronted with dwindling attendance, and they were frightened by the prospect of losing their religious and cultural identity in an increasingly diverse neighborhood, now designated by city officials as “blighted.”
The remaining members sensed that their original mission had stagnated and lost focus. Having invested a good portion of their lives in this church, these determined members expressed a willingness to take the risk and adopt a new vision to be the church in this changing context. It was at this point that I became pastor.
Our First Small Steps
With church leaders open to innovation, we tried a great variety of outreach programs—drama, theme Sundays, art exhibits, children's events, a "living Last Supper"—most of which had little or no effect on the neighborhood. Some people visited; few came back.
During that time, sermons and discussions focused on the compassionate Christ, a Savior moved by the ever-present crowds that he saw as bewildered, distressed, and helpless (Matthew 9:36, Amplified Bible*). We knew it was time to open our doors to our neighbors, people who did not share our cultural background.
This article is a reprint from Leadership Journal. To read the full article, visit their website: http://www.ctlibrary.com/le/2014/october-online-only/serving-immigrants-saved-our-church.html
MICHAEL LYNCH is pastor of the Church of the Nazarene in Iowa City, Iowa.
Copyright © 2014 by the author. Reprinted by permission of Leadership Journal (LeadershipJournal.net).
*Amplified Bible (AMP) Copyright © 1954, 1958, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1987 by The Lockman Foundation. The Amplified Bible is a translation that, by using synonyms and definitions, both explains and expands the meaning of words in the text by placing amplification in parentheses and brackets and after key words or phrases.