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How Your Church Can Transform Its Neighborhood

Public School #3 in Englewood

This is an insightful piece from Chris Smith, editor of The Englewood Review of Books. Chris is married to one of my high school friends and attends the same church as my wife’s brother and his family in Indianapolis. In this article, he details how their church went from a failed attempt at being a mega-church to having a huge impact on their down-trodden neighborhood in a poor area of the Near Eastside of Indy. Here’s a taste:

Englewood is a tiny postage stamp of a neighborhood on the Near Eastside of Indianapolis. In many ways it’s a stereotypical abandoned urban neighborhood. Located at the heart of the ZIP code with the highest rate of vacant housing in the state, our neighborhood continues to see occupancy rates plummet. But there are signs of hope.

On Rural Street, the century-old Indianapolis Public School #3 building (which has not functioned as a school since 1979) is being converted into 32 units of gorgeous, mixed-income housing. It will be the first development in the state to integrate market-rate and affordable housing with supportive housing for people coming directly out of homelessness or severe mental illness. Right behind the school, a vacant lot once covered with asphalt is now a community garden that has expanded every year for the past decade. And just south of the garden and school building, on the exterior of a commercial building on Washington Street that was once home to a seedy used appliance store, a local artist is painting historical scenes from Wonderland, the amusement park that graced our neighborhood a century ago.

In the midst of this surprising renewal is Englewood Christian Church, a failed megachurch that spiraled downward with the neighborhood. How is it that our congregation, now about 200, was able to help orchestrate these strains of change? The short answer: We learned to talk to each other.

To read what that listening lead to, check out the piece here. It is worth the read. I think many of us could learn from this example. Rather than attempting to tell our neighborhood how they can improve, let us listen to their dreams and goals, and figure out how to partner with them and show them the love of God as we work along side of them.

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