In June of 2007 I accepted the position of a small church of 30 members in inner city Cleveland, OH. The church was created in 1982 out of a bus ministry. The church has not grown or died in the last 20+ years. I followed the founding pastor who had a massive heart attack a year before I came. Pastor Smith was everything to this community. He was known as a very caring individual but did not know how to create structure or establish/work with a volunteer base. The church had two main ministries to the community: a weekly community dinner and a monthly pantry.
When I started at Cleveland Victory my first chore was cleanup. We emptied 3 - 30 yard dumpsters of garbage, old spoiled food, and mice, out of the church. Clean up has been a major chore in our 100 year old building. After we cleaned the church out completely be began to stabilize our current offerings. The weekly dinner was held in the church basement that could barely seat 40 people. Our average attendance was about 50. There was a huge issue of space and it was causing tension with the workers and our guests. What we decided to do was use our main floor for the dinner. Our main floor was a traditional sanctuary that was used for one hour a week. We tore out all the pews and replaced them with chairs donated for free from a local Holiday Inn who was updating their conference rooms. (their new wall color did not match their year old chairs!) We also decided to rid ourselves of the old, wooden, rectangular, church tables with new plastic round tables. Our reasoning was to create a family style meal and an environment that would produce healthy conversation. Each table would have a host that would connect the "family" to the pastor. We are now averaging over 75 a week and can seat 100 comfortably.
Our monthly pantry also went through some changes. Previously they created grocery bags with a predetermined amount of items. Pantry day was awful. People would come through the line, not making eye contact, sign in, and collect their bag. We changed this immediately. We decided to set up a grocery store in the basement of the church and let people determine what their family needed or did not need. Each guest also has a personal shopper who helps them and begins to know their needs. Our awful day is now a day of value where people can shop for their own groceries. Previously we prepared 40 bags for families, last month we helped 120 families shop for groceries.
Because of God's blessing not only is our community members noticing but also the local foodbank. The foodbank gave us two grants that completely funded our weekly dinners and monthly pantry for the last 18 months. We are doing ministry and it is not costing us a dime! Also the foodbank recognized us as Multi-Purpose Program of the Year 2008! That covers 8 counties and 451 member agencies. We are not the biggest but people see God's love flowing.
We are starting a new program next month called Victory Shop. Currently we distribute clothing as families are waiting to shop for their groceries. We place the clothing on tables by men, women, and children, and they get what they need. We are now changing that system with Victory Shop. Victory Shop will be held on a separate day and it will be a place where our community can purchase clothing for a minimal fee or trade clothing for credit. We have emphasized the trading aspect because one of our goals is to have the community share assets. After trading in quality clothes they receive credit to purchase "new" clothing for their family.
In March, we are creating another new program called the After Party. The After Party is in response to a survey done by USA Today in our community. Only 34% of our children will graduate from high school. The After Party is going to be a place where students 7-12 grade can come for tutoring, mentoring, dinner, and fun, three days a week from 4-8 pm.
All this is response to our community. We no longer want to just be involved one hour a week. We want to be involved in their complete lives. Here is where the proposal comes in. Over the last two years we have solidified our current program and now we are ready to go fulltime. This proposal was sent to our district leadership which includes 80 churches in North Central Ohio. We have added one member to our staff (the first staff hiring in the history of our church) and we are looking to add another in June. We are also in need of a new-er facility to continue to grow. We are seeking permission to not just "do" church in our community but "be" the church. We want to take the focus off of one sacred hour and stretch it 24/7/365.