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‘Centercity’ churches look ‘outside the box’comment (0)

August 3, 2000

By Greg Heyman

Steve Jones believes he is a part of the community in which he works.
The pastor of Southside Baptist Church, Birmingham, since 1999, Jones knows his ministry goes beyond the doors of his church. While downtown churches such as Southside have lost members in the past few years when families move to the suburbs, he said the defections also offer opportunities for ministry to those who remain.
The location of a church such as Southside often leads some to call it an “inner-city church,” but Jones said he prefers the term centercity. “We’re kind of in the heart of the city,” he said.
When others began moving from the area, Jones said Southside made a choice to minister to those who would be left without a church nearby. “This church made a commitment to stay here,” he said.
Jones said if all churches leave an area, there is nothing left for the “centercity.” Thus, as families have moved to suburbs and chosen churches closer to home, he said new opportunities have been born for churches such as Southside.
“People prefer a neighborhood church, where it’s handy and a downtown church is not handy,” said Edna Langley, minister of education at Baptist Church of the Covenant, also in Birmingham. But she too agrees there is still much work to be done in the inner city.
“Southside Baptist has had to change its direction and look outward,” Jones said.
Langley said her church has been presented with a similar opportunity. “I think, sometimes, we are required to look outside the box,” she said.
Looking “outside the box,” according to Langley, means not looking at the size of the congregation, but the impact of what it is doing in the community.
“We had to think of a new way to be more challenged by ministry to the inner  city and the needs there,” she said.
Langley said growth is important, but is not always measured by the size of a congregation. “We have to look at growth being more in the spiritual realm in meeting needs,” she said.
Jones said that can be accomplished in ways such as having more casual worship and an “open-minded” approach to the gospel. Southside has also established ministries such as a food bank he said serves an average of 90 people each week.
Other opportunities for reaching out include use of the church building by groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous and day care for inner-city families. Another opportunity cited by Langley is that inner-city churches are more likely to meet the needs of walk-ins seeking money or food.
An area such as Birmingham’s Southside boasts a diversity of residents from different races, cultures and outlooks. Subsequently, some may be uncomfortable worshiping with others outside their status group.
“I think it’s more a coming together of people from all walks of life,” Langley said.
Jones said the diversity offers opportunities for inner city churches. “That intimidates some people and it invigorates others,” he said.
“We feel very much a part of the community in which we live and we serve,” Jones said. “It’s a sense of community for us.”

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