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Yarbrough Street Church reaches out to neighborhood’s ‘melting pot’comment (0)

October 23, 2008

By Anna Swindle

Montgomery’s Yarbrough Street Baptist Church tells a story familiar to countless Baptist churches across the state. Founded as a mission church a mile from a cotton field in the Highland Gardens area of Montgomery, Yarbrough Street initially found itself surrounded by a white, middle-class neighborhood.

But, as is the case with so many Alabama neighborhoods, sometime over the course of the church’s 54 years Highland Garden transformed from a white, middle-class area into a multicultural melting pot, where the socioeconomic level dropped significantly.

This, however, is where Yarbrough Street’s tale begins to venture away from the norm. Instead of keeping their church insulated against its changing surroundings, members made a decision to reach out to their community, a choice that is both challenging and rewarding all at once.

“Church is about becoming Jesus and going out into the neighborhood,” said Lisa Chilson-Rose, church and community ministries director for Montgomery Baptist Association. “My family and I wanted to be active in a church that was reaching people in the community around them, and Yarbrough Street was a place where that was happening.”

Chilson-Rose and her family became members this past summer.

Yarbrough Street’s pastor, Cliff Stever, is just as adamant about having a local focus.
“One thing we at Yarbrough Street absolutely believe is this: Walk by faith, have much faith ... our job is to reach out to the orphans and widows and to the people of all nations,” said Stever. “And people of all nations are right outside our door.”

Stever has seen phenomenal growth take place since he came to the church four years ago.

Upon arrival in the Highland Garden area, Stever immediately recognized the abundant need — both physical and spiritual — in the neighborhood.

Since the church lacked funding, they paired with other local ministries, such as Shepherd’s Staff, and passionately began to reach out.

Soon, the church was seeing more growth than it had in years. One Wednesday night, 45 neighborhood children showed up for church. Until that point, only one youth had been coming to church, so this was a huge increase. So huge, in fact, that it was a bit problematic. 

“We had been praying and praying for God to bring these children to our church,” said Stever. “Then all of a sudden they were here, and we didn’t have nearly enough resources and teachers for them all.”

Since that Wednesday night, more teachers have volunteered to help with the ever-growing youth group, and the church has become even more connected to the community.

Gloria Catrett, a 36-year member of Yarbrough Street, was instrumental in getting the neighborhood outreach going, and she continues to give of her time and resources.

Three times a week — on Wednesday nights, Sunday mornings and Sunday nights — Catrett drives the church’s single van into the neighborhood to pick up children for church. So many children are now involved that Catrett makes at least three trips back and forth from church to neighborhood per service.

“Everyone always wants to be dropped off last, because that’s when they want to talk,” said Catrett. “I never take the same route when I drive the kids home, so that way I can give attention to different kids. I’ve learned that when these kids need you, they need you right now.”

Catrett certainly gives plenty of her “right now” time. Once she transports all the children to the church, she then, with the help of other teachers, leads lessons. In addition, she helps to orchestrate extra youth activities, such as lock-ins and bowling outings.

Yarbrough Street tries to meet their neighbors’ physical needs as well as their spiritual ones, and so with that in mind they offer parenting classes, participate in the Meals on Wheels program and have a one-on-one ministry to go into homes and assess the need.

The church’s incredible growth has been an answer to prayer, said Stever, but has also created a greater need for the church.

“We are suffering from growing pains, and now that we have so many new kids the tithing just isn’t sufficient for all we need to be doing for them and for their families,” he said. “We are just a country church, and we aren’t interested in becoming a megachurch, but we do want to have the resources to support our ministry.”

Still, despite a lack of resources, this church isn’t lacking determination or faith, and it is showing no signs of slowing down.

“We truly are making a difference,” said Stever. “I have had people tell me that, and it’s amazing to be at a place where things like this are happening.”

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