About five years ago, GCI’s Abundant Grace Fellowship in Ft. Myers, FL, met to consider where we were and where we needed to go. We had been meeting in other churches’ buildings. But now we sensed God leading us to relocate.
We started by praying for a new location. One day one of our members was driving around and saw a “for rent” sign at a local office complex. His initial thought was, “We can’t afford that.” But he felt a strong urging to turn around and check it out. He did, and God opened an important door.
A few months later, we began remodeling 1200 square feet of space in that office complex. It is owned by New Mission Systems International, and they were anxious to lease space to a church with a local focus. We held our first worship service there in 2005. When we moved, we had ten members in regular attendance. Eight were 60 years or older.
But undaunted by our small size and advanced age, we tried several ways to reach out to serve the surrounding community. We held “fun-days” with food and games. We held reverse yard sales. We distributed mailers to people who were moving into the area. None of these approaches bore much fruit.
After much prayer and brainstorming, a member couple suggested that we hold “Meal & Prayer” outreach once each week to serve the homeless in the area. The idea was discussed with the congregation and the pastoral team decided to move forward. During the first several months, only a few people from the community came. But we persisted. And after serving many wonderful meals, and otherwise warmly welcoming and unconditionally accepting the few who were coming, word began to spread. The number of community participants slowly grew.
Now every Wednesday and Sunday, we serve lunch to all who come. We currently serve about 365 lunches each month. At each meal, we offer prayer request cards and toiletry items. From time to time, we offer clothing and socks. The need for this assistance is growing as the local economy deteriorates, leading to job losses and to overtaxing the resources that local government agencies and ministry organizations have to help the needy and homeless.
It has been inspiring to see friends, relatives and people from other churches and mission agencies join in to help us. Some help serve meals on Wednesdays, and some give donations. It is most inspiring to see the reaction of the homeless people who come. As they receive our hospitality, experiencing God’s unconditional love and acceptance, close bonds of relationship are forged. As this happens, they gain hope and vision, and many of those being served have joined us as servers.
As this transformation occurs, we invite those who seem receptive to join us for our Sunday worship services and lunch. Many have accepted our invitation. Our average weekly worship service attendance has tripled.
All this has been inspiring and humbling. We have seen how God can use an “over-the-hill gang” that is willing to follow where he leads. But most importantly, we have experienced his compassionate care for a group of homeless and needy folks that our culture tends to push aside. How marvelous to share in what God is doing to show them that he accepts and includes them in his love and life.
By God’s grace, that’s what it looks like here at Abundant Grace Fellowship in Ft. Myers, FL. A small, and “mature” (a nice way to say “old”) group who has joyfully joined Jesus in his ongoing ministry to people in our area. We have learned that God is not limited by age, size or anything that we may see as an obstacle. Thank you, Lord.