Dear Brothers and Sisters,
This month, when children are out of school for summer, and many of us have more leisure time to connect with friends and family, my mind turns to one of the most meaningful forms of outreach we practice here at GCI. It’s a broad umbrella of ministries known as “Outside the Walls” and it takes on many different forms. The idea behind this program is in the name: it’s a way of helping our members get outside the walls of our own church buildings, and reach out to surrounding communities.
Most of us are familiar with the story of the Good Samaritan. The context for this parable in the book of Luke is that an “expert in the law” came to test Jesus, and asked what was needed for salvation. When Jesus turned the question around, this expert knew the right answer: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind” and “Love your neighbor as yourself.” But Luke says this man “wanted to justify himself,” and so he asked Jesus “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:25-29). This is when Jesus gave us one of the most memorable parables in Scripture.
In this famous parable, Jesus tells how outwardly righteous people – a priest and Levite – would not help a man beaten, robbed, and left for dead. Instead, it took a Samaritan, a social outcast in Jewish eyes, to take pity and care for someone who was clearly in need. When Jesus asked the expert which of those who had passed by had loved his neighbor, the man said, “The one who had mercy on him” (Luke 10:30-37). Here at GCI, we don’t want to be like the priest and the Levite – too busy hurrying to church to stop and care for the needs we encounter along the way. Instead, we want to learn from the words of Jesus and, like the Good Samaritan, be steeped in the compassion of God so that we are ready and willing to step out of our comfort zone and show mercy to our neighbors.
Our congregations get “Outside the Walls” in many different ways. But a unifying theme of these programs is our desire to address real needs and promote real community with those around us. With something as simple as handing out water bottles on a hot day, our churches have found opportunities to connect with our neighbors. Some who have felt hostile toward organized religion or suspicious of evangelism have been genuinely touched by our members’ willingness to talk with them, to listen, to be respectful and responsive. We trust that God is at work in the lives of everyone, and these ministries find creative ways to share his love.
One of the best means of supporting our surrounding communities is caring for young people. From food banks to harvest festivals, our congregations work to provide care to their communities. We have had a lot of success with “family fun days” – including bounce houses, free food, water balloon fights, a prayer tent, and more – which provide a safe and supportive space for nearby families to come and relax. It supplements a quiet church building and worship with a more familiar context to interact with friendly faces and have relaxed conversation.
By forming relationships with people in the community who may not be believers, these outreach events help us show up in our own neighborhoods. Some congregations offer new members classes, inviting those who don’t have a church home to learn more about our local GCI fellowship. From retirees of one congregation tutoring local elementary school students to another congregation organizing a tee ball league, our churches are having impact on the lives of those around them.
GCI provides interested congregations with training in this kind of incarnational outreach. We focus on connecting through hospitality and on expressing Christ’s love to non-churched people beyond Sunday morning. Things like inviting those nearby to a block party allows our churches to be a welcoming presence in the community. It also gives our members a chance to invite people to church, and to start conversations that may lead someone down the path of discipleship. We know that we need to act on what we believe, and caring for our neighbors is a great place to begin.
We have had significant successes with our “Outside the Walls” ministries overseen by Gabriel Ojih in Dallas, Texas; Tim Brassell in Baltimore, Maryland; Marty Davey in Jacksonville, Florida; Dustin Lampe in Cincinnati, Ohio; and Nata Cruz in Mexico City, Mexico. We also have congregations who are preparing to engage in this program, overseen by Israel Hernandez in Cicero, Illinois and Craig Kuhlman in Eagle Rock, California. I’m glad and grateful that these programs are expanding, continuing to touch lives in new communities every day.
We hope that our “Outside the Walls” initiatives will help draw new members to our GCI congregations. These opportunities for connection support that goal. But we know – even setting aside the goal of growing membership – that these programs are having a positive effect on our congregations and on our communities, by helping our churches join with Jesus in what he is already doing all around us.
“Outside the Walls” is more than fun activities that take place beyond our church building at times other than Sunday morning. It’s a philosophy of ministry, one we here at GCI live by. We are committed to investing in our neighbors and our neighborhoods, in letting our communities know that we’re here and that we care. In friendly, day-to-day ways, we want to be like the Good Samaritan: showing up and showing mercy to those in need right in front of us, here at home. Your generous financial support of GCI is critical in supporting many global, large-scale ministries with wide reach. But you can also trust that our congregations are just as interested in going deep, in providing mercy and support to our neighbors on an everyday basis.
Let’s get outside our own walls today,
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Grace Communion International is dedicated to helping people everywhere understand the truth about God and the gospel. Because of your generous support, we can share the good news of who God really is for us with many more around the world. We appreciate your support.