By Carl Stagner

Food fosters conviviality! In the case of River Street Church of God in Newberg, Oregon, the barbecue is breaking down barriers. For the past three years, the neighborhood barbecue has been a signature event for the church, providing opportunities for church-community connection that would otherwise not be realized. Building a bridge between the congregation and those outside the four walls is not easy, but this year’s event – which coincides with a welcome event at the nearby school – demonstrated even to the most skeptical that their local followers of Jesus are not concerned with promoting an institution, but with serving and loving those around them.

When churches like River Street try something new, favorable results are not always immediate. Patience is required and, as the church in Oregon knows firsthand, faith that God’s timing is perfect means that service in God’s kingdom continues regardless of visible results. But many visible results have indeed arrived, and while neighborhood participation for early attempts might be called “minimal,” Pastor Doug Balzer is taking it all in stride.

Serve burgers for the community!

“We were able to meet neighbors we hadn’t had contact with before,” notes Pastor Doug. “If the qualifiers are laughter and fun, the neighborhood presented itself well…. Probably the most important indicator of success for us has been the recognition people have of us when we walk around the neighborhood, grocery stores and restaurants. They always thank us for organizing the event and hope that we will do so again in the future.

The function of the local primary school was useful in the visibility of the church for its barbecue. Although no official count has been obtained, more than 235 meals were served while children enjoyed the allure of a bouncy house. Despite some negative perception of the church related to litter and evidence of drug abuse on and along the property, barriers to fellowship have been broken down through loving service to the community. And while the challenges that come with urban ministry and homeless ministry are real, the church continues to do something about it.

A bouncy house was part of the festivities.

“River Street Church wishes to be a tangible expression of the kingdom of God for the community in a practical way,” Doug reflects. “A people of Jesus for the good of others – living in the way of Jesus – announcing the presence of his kingdom – and working for measurable change in the community.”

With this in mind, the Newberg congregation regularly hosts “simple community suppers, where everyone is welcome in measure” on Wednesday evenings. The event is coordinated in partnership with three other churches, providing a meaningful and nourishing ministry of over 500 meals per month. The church also provides food and supplies for a drop-in center that supports homeless, marginalized and others facing financial insecurities. They regularly collect sleeping bags, tents, blankets, tarps and clothing for people in need. They even offer an open shower on Wednesdays and by appointment the other days of the week. Partnerships with local agencies provide additional access to benefits that express tangible love for underfunded people in their neighborhood and beyond.

“We asked the question, ‘Would the community miss River Street Church if it disappeared?’ concludes Pastor Doug. “The answer is yes, it would be. Why? This would leave a significant void to help meet the needs of a community area plagued by severe insecurities. So we look to the future with hope, faith and trust in God.

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