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Fresno church plant begins Sunday services

Goals for 2016 include addressing neighborhood needs

Mission USA news story

Church planter Joe White (pictured left leading a "preview" service) anticipates great things for Neighborhood Church in 2016. The church plant in the Jackson Neighborhood of Fresno, Calif., will launch weekly Sunday gatherings Jan. 24. White also expects to start a nonprofit to address specific needs in the community and open a small business to employ neighbors with barriers to employment.   

Neighborhood Church, a church plant partnership between Mission USA and the Pacific District Conference, held three Sunday morning “preview services” to offer neighbors a chance to check out the new church. More than 100 people packed into the small neighborhood elementary school cafeteria where Neighborhood Church is meeting for the preview services.

“Our goal is to grow to 120 people—our cafeteria capacity—and to send a group of people from Neighborhood Church to plant another church in a different part of our neighborhood to reach more neighbors with the good news of Jesus,” says White.

White describes this fledgling congregation as “a neighborhood-focused and neighborhood-impacting church plant.” The church plant is focusing on 923 homes in an eight-street by 12-block area, which represents 3,500 people.

“Jackson is an incredibly vulnerable neighborhood with large income inequality,” says White. “Seventy-one percent of our neighborhood is without a high school education and has an average income of $26,000 annually, well below Fresno’s median income.”

White and his wife, Heidi, and their children moved to the Jackson Neighborhood in February 2015. Since then, White reports that 22 kids in the neighborhood have indicated their desire to follow Jesus.

During their first year in the Jackson Neighborhood, Neighborhood Church volunteers have served in multiple classes at Jackson Elementary School helping kids with math and reading and hosting an after-school evangelistic club attended by an average of 41 kids as well as an after-school club for 15 neighborhood teenagers each week in a local apartment complex.

Volunteers have organized a Saturday biweekly sports ministry that serves 50 kids and their parents. They have also renovated a formerly abandoned 100-year-old workshop and turned it into an artisan space where youth in the neighborhood can learn job-transferable skills like woodworking and welding.

White asks for prayers that he and his wife will find new energy as they begin their second year of ministry in the Jackson Neighborhood.

“Heidi and I have personally met over 150 neighbors in our neighborhood in 10 months and have hosted many for dinners and barbeques,” writes White in an email. “We have also had two interns who are learning about urban ministry living with us, which in addition to our four young kids, including a baby born in mid-December, has made us very tired. Please pray for rest and renewal (Psalm 23) as we launch into 2016.”

While they are fatigued, the Whites are also finding joy in their work. White cites efforts to create places for their neighbors to gather as one thing that has brought the couple happiness.

“We have transformed our large front and side yard into a community garden which includes a prayer labyrinth, 100 varieties of edible and drought-resistant landscaping, an outdoor barbeque pit where neighbors can gather and eat together, an outdoor stage for neighborhood concerts and four stations that are placed along a winding path allowing us to tell neighbors about the story of the universe—creation, fall, redemption, restoration,” says White.  “In our urban environment, we have loved to consider how to take private property and turn it into public property, green spaces—the connective tissue of our neighborhood.”

Photo provided by Mission USA





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