Friday, October 12, 2012

Reaching the Oppressed and Downtrodden

In my previous post I wrote about the need for churches to get outside the four walls of their buildings and serve the community in order to reach people. Closely aligned with a sense of serving the community is the idea of meeting the needs of those who are less fortunate. Even small communities have people who are hungry, homeless, and hurting. When churches demonstrate Christian love though compassion ministries, postmodern people take notice.

Though churches will find a variety of ways to do this, every church should be involved in some way. Barre Baptist Fellowship sits on a side street of Barre, Vermont (population of 8,837). In 1997 they started a soup kitchen to meet the needs of the homeless people they saw hanging out on a corner down the street from the church. Since then, their ministry to the homeless has grown to include serving nearly five thousand hot meals each year. The church also provides blankets, socks, and coats to the homeless during the winter months. The church often helps people find jobs and assists them with court hearings and legal proceedings. All of the compassion ministries Barre Baptist Fellowship sponsors are designed to help people hear the gospel and have an opportunity to discuss it with a member of the church. The congregation is now made up almost entirely of people who were reached through compassion ministries. Churches from a variety of denominations in the area send volunteers and raise funds for the soup kitchen. Many young adults, especially college students, travel from around the country to assist the church in their ministry to the homeless and hurting. Because compassion ministries are very important to young people, they are willing to travel from around the nation at their own expense to assist in this ministry. Churches that reach out to young adults should expect them to want to get involved in such ministries. Though Barre Baptist Fellowship does not have many young people in its congregation, the church has been very instrumental in helping many young adults from other churches become more involved in their faith by helping the hurting.

David Russell serves as pastor of the Restoration Baptist Church in Burlington, Vermont. He is also the director of Burlington Street Ministries. Since 1975 he has been serving the homeless on the streets of Burlington. Pastor Russell’s congregation does not have a church building. The church uses homes of various church members for Sunday worship services. On Friday nights, Pastor Russell ministers out of a small push cart in the downtown area where the homeless frequently live. He holds Bible studies in the food court of a downtown mall and at a local McDonald’s. He has even held Good Friday services in the alley between two downtown buildings. Like Barre Baptist Fellowship, Pastor Russell utilizes many volunteers each year from both local churches and Christian college student organizations around the nation. Volunteers help him pass out Bibles and other Christian literature.  They engage those they are ministering to in conversation.   They distribute McDonald’s gift certificates to those in need. They pray in the mall or on the streets with those who are troubled and looking for divine guidance. The many college groups who assist Pastor Russell are drawn to volunteer because, in their worldview, caring for the homeless is something Christians should be doing. Pastor Russell helps those who volunteer see the need to meet both the physical and spiritual needs of the homeless.

Helping the poor and oppressed is one thing postmodern people think Christians should actually be doing. Sadly, postmodern people seldom see evangelical churches serving in this manner. This inconsistency really bothers postmodern people. If churches want to reach postmodern people, churches will need to provide ways for young people to volunteer or otherwise support various ministries to the oppressed and downtrodden.

Even if churches do not feel called to have a major compassion ministry of their own, it would be wise to find ministries at other churches to which they can channel volunteers and money. It is an oddity of postmodernism that by reaching out to the poor and downtrodden, churches can actually reach young professionals who are neither poor nor downtrodden.

Adapted from Dr. Dorsett’s book, Mission Possible: Reaching the Next Generation through the Small Church, published by CrossBooks, a division of Lifeway Christian Resources.


  1. Great post about a great ministry. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Thanks Mary, both of those churches do amazing work.