Jay and I planted a church in a small city in Arizona back in 2008. Our team consisted of ten people who had the same passion and calling as us to reach the city of Maricopa. The city was essentially a bedroom community thirty minutes from Phoenix with one way in and one way out. Young families who lived there did not typically have family or friends nearby and were not attending church. After some research, Jay discovered that the families were seeking activity for their kids, and the city needed soccer coaches for recreation teams. So, we began church planting as volunteer soccer coaches, which allowed us to meet other families in the community and city officials. Our first church event was an Easter worship service in our backyard. We invited our neighbors and those we had connected with on our soccer teams. The families that showed up surprised us! They had either never been to church or had a bad experience in the church, but God brought them!
At this point, we did not have a regular service yet and were trying to build relationships in our community. So, Jay started a softball team to meet guys while I talked to their families. They would pray after the games, which was a perfect conversation starter to talk about God. On Halloween, we'd have a bonfire in our driveway, give away free hot dogs and popcorn, and play movies and video games in our driveway. We met so many neighbors by inviting them to stay and hang out.
After getting to know our community a little better, we realized the potential to connect even further, so we started what became a popular event in our neighborhood community center. At this family event, we had carnival games, free hot dogs, prizes, bounce houses and live music from our worship band. We met several families who every time asked us why we would spend money to provide so much to the community and where was our church meeting. Our answer was, "we are serving the people in our community to show Christ's love.” People couldn't believe that we would provide something so valuable with no strings attached. The carnival made such a great impression on the community, that all the neighborhood associations in Maricopa now put on their own carnival for their neighborhoods.
There were many more examples of how God opened doors for us to serve our community, and we saw tangible examples of changed lives. We were grateful and amazed at how God used us to impact a lost community. It wasn't easy. I was working full time, running our children's ministry and pregnant with Brooklyn. Jay was working as our lead pastor and running a business. Kylie was a toddler, and we were constantly hosting people at our house. To say we were busy is an understatement, but we found that families were hungry for fellowship and community and God was at work all around us. We were in constant prayer that God would give us the strength, patience, endurance needed to stay obedient to His calling. At moments, when I'd feel overwhelmed, stressed, and my emotional tank was on empty, a soccer family who was once lost would want to be baptized, or a family from my class at school would show up to our service and want to stay. A family from the neighborhood carnival would suddenly want to start coming to our small group and serve, or a new softball player would want to join the prayer circle. I grew the most when I was serving and leading out of my comfort zone. He stretched me beyond what I thought was my capacity.
In case you haven’t heard, GPBC is hosting a free family event for everyone called, "Family Jam, Pumpkin Slam" on Halloween night, Wednesday, October 31, from 6:00-8:30pm. This will include FREE carnival games, cookie decorating, cotton candy, popcorn, photo booth, bounce house, coffee and hot chocolate and the amazing giant slide! Sound familiar?