One of the most powerful things any congregation can do is to love on its neighborhood, city or region because Jesus does. One of those churches who believes in the power of loving on its community is Valley Church in Des Moines, Iowa.
It recently completed a beautiful community center adjacent to its own facility for the sole purpose of blessing the community. Since its recent completion they have had over 12,000 guests and expect 5,000 for their great Pumpkin Party.
The facility is located on a 35 acre campus across the street from Valley Church. It is 29,000 square feet and features an Event Hall (large gym that converts into an attractive, carpeted venue for 1250), Maplenol Café (seats 150), kids indoor play area, meeting rooms and offices. Outdoors are sports fields, the historic Maplenol Barn, and the Global Greens Farm (for refugees). The cost of the facility is $6.5 million.
Why would Valley Church make such an investment in their community - at their expense? The heart behind the Valley Community Center is from 1 Peter 2:12 (ERV) - “People who don’t believe are living all around you. They may say that you are doing wrong. So live such good lives that they will see the good you do, and they will give glory to God on the day he comes.”
Quintin Stieff, the senior pastor and a friend of mine says this: "At one time, the church was at the center of community life. But today, it is marginalized both by our own choices and by the response of our community. Our heart is to return to the center of the life of our community. Not to dominate it, but to be a life-giving presence. How is that possible? We have concluded that we cannot talk our way into the hearts of the people of our community. We cannot force our way. We need to serve and love our way back into their hearts. So, we have launched a major initiative called “Love You Des Moines” to do just that. The Valley Community Center is one component of that initiative. It is a community bridge."
The vision for the Valley Community Center is: “A hub for partnerships, doing good for the community… with the community.”
Nearly all the events and activities are for the greater Des Moines community. (There are very few “church events” held here.)
Half of the community activities are led by community partners (both community non-profits and Christian ministries). The other half are community events and activities led by Valley Church for the community.
To fund this effort they approach morally positive non-profits and say: “We really believe in what you are doing in the community. Could you use the Valley Community Center to help advance your cause?” Their fees are quite low (sometimes free), and are intended to be revenue-neutral. They don’t make money off the Valley Community Center. It is our gift to the community. Many of the guests assume (wrongly) that the city of West Des Moines built the community center. They are shocked (and pleased) to find out that the church did this.
From a Christian perspective and internally, the strategy is communicated:
Good works à Good will à Good news
Aggressive GOOD WORKS for/with the community lead to GOOD WILL and that leads to opportunities to share GOOD NEWS.
Quintin shares a few examples of how the Valley community Center has been used recently:
· Public School Teachers - The Valley Community Center hosted the staff training day for all 675 employees of the local public school district.
· Military - Hosted 750 members of the Iowa Air National Guard for a training gathering.
· Disabilities - Host a weekly meeting for Iowa Adaptive Sports, providing individuals with physical and cognitive abilities in power (wheel) chairs the opportunity to play “power soccer” completely independently.
· Refugees – We provided a few acres of land (at the Community Center), irrigation, and some resources to create the new Global Greens Farm in partnership with Lutheran Services of Iowa. The Center/Farm serves 20+ refugee families from Rwanda, Nepal, Myanmar, Burundi, and Bhutan. They raise produce to supplement their family income and food source. The church also hosted several Global Greens Farmers Markets, where church members could meet the refugees and purchase produce. Delicious!
· Youth – We hosted the 10 Year Gala Celebration for Freedom for Youth, an inner city ministry partner that serves homeless and at-risk youth in Des Moines. 400 people attended and over $125,000 was raised for this organization.
· Children – Valley Church leads Upward Sports (community leagues for children in flag football, cheerleading, basketball, soccer). This fall, we have 1300-1500 children, parents, and coaches participating on a weekly basis. We are expecting 25% more for basketball this winter.
· Random Groups – We host an indoor cricket league (30 men from India), a Pakistani community celebration (120), an historic neighborhood reunion (100). Coming soon: Special Olympics basketball, Circle of Friends banquet (special needs), Mosaic (disabilities) dinner (200), Parks and Rec Daddy/Daughter Valentines dance, etc. These are all community events, not church events.
· Monthly Compassion Focus – Every month there is a different compassion project to serve people in need. This month is the winter coat drive. The community is invited to participate, as well as the church.
· Guests – Since our opening in June, we have welcomed over 12,000 guests. We expect 5000+ this week for our 3-day Great Pumpkin Party.
See the attached magazine for a list of some of the partners and other info.
It is a powerful story and one that God is going to bless! You can do this in your way and in your situation. It comes out of a heart like Jesus to love our communities.