At our first small group meeting in 2017, we started asking the question: what can we do to cast a larger net in the harvest? With over 8,000 people living in the neighborhoods surrounding our house, and over 7,000 of them with no church home, we were heartbroken at the pervasive lostness that defines our geography. Perhaps, what is more heartbreaking is that for the majority of these people, the concept of gathering together around a common cause is not a foreign idea or experience. However, because many of them have rejected calls to attend a local church and actively insulated their social circle from Christianity, they prefer to rally around events that promote political action and community concern as opposed to a call to live under God’s rule and reign.
With this in mind, we created a series of forums called The Uptown Exchange. The Uptown Exchange is a gathering of people around the common cause of concern to our community. The basic idea is that by discussing topics that residents of our community are concerned about, we can showcase both the concern that Christians should have for the welfare of the our neighborhoods and the world, in an environment that they find comfortable. At our first meeting (February 6, 2017), we met 15 new neighbors who gathered at a local business to discuss the issue of racial reconciliation. While the venue was much different than a church building, the meeting was modeled after our small group gatherings on Sunday afternoons. The meeting featured a moderator, Philip Pinckney, pastor of Radiant Church who led the discussion and often interjected to articulate how the Christian worldview should affect the way we view race, reconciliation, and our communities. By God’s grace, we were about to connect with two different neighbors over a shared concern for racial brokenness. Our hope was and continues to be that we can showcase how the grace given us in Christ, both heals our brokenness and implores us to serve and love our neighbors.
While much could be said about the over 100 plus locals, we have met over the course of the last 5 months through our Uptown Exchange meetings, I wanted to take a moment and share a brief story with you about a young lady named Bree. We met Bree at our first Uptown Exchange meeting of 2017, and over a period of a couple months gradually built a relationship with her. Eventually she began attending one of our small group meetings, and although her attendance is a momentous stand-alone work of grace, during our meeting she shared that she did not own and had never read a Bible. While we were more than happy to offer her a Bible, her lack of biblical literacy is not an exception, but the norm for the vast majority of those living here in the Uptown.
However, none of the things mentioned above would be possible in part without the Janie Chapman Offering. I know that I speak for the hundreds of church planting teams across the state, when I say thank you. All of the amazing things we get to be a part of as church planting teams would not be possible apart from your prayers, encouragement and sacrifice.