Keeping a Church Plant and a Community Afloat
A young church serving and sharing the gospel in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey
Just six months after launch, Shine Bible Fellowship found itself on unstable ground. In spring 2017, attendance and financial giving were dropping.
Jaron Jones, the lead pastor and church planter, was struggling to keep the church afloat. Over the course of the summer, attendance crept back up to the normal weekly average, but Shine, located in the Houston suburb of Cypress, Texas, needed to grow to bring the church to a more sustainable level. In an effort to get Shine’s name out into the community, Jaron placed an ad in a local magazine. As providence would have it, the magazine was distributed the weekend before Hurricane Harvey would devastate Houston.
That August, as the Buffalo Bayou water levels rapidly rose due to the hurricane-induced rainfall, the city began controlled releases of the reservoirs in an attempt to manage flood levels. But the water overwhelmed the banks, and hundreds of homes outside the flood zone were significantly damaged. Homes in The Colonies, a community located less than 2 miles from the building where Shine Bible Fellowship meets, experienced significant damage.
When the powerful winds and rain died down, Jaron scouted the area to see what the neighborhoods had sustained. He discovered that The Colonies had severely flooded, and a supply tent had been set up at one of the blocked neighborhood entrances by a local community college Cru campus minister. The Cru minister asked Jaron if Shine could take over the supply tent and introduced Jaron to the president of The Colonies’ Homeowners’ Association. With permission to connect with homeowners and work in the community, Shine took advice from EFCA ReachGlobal Crisis Response on what to do next and created flyers offering assistance to homeowners.
Hurricane Harvey swung open a door for Shine Bible Fellowship to meet people from a variety of backgrounds and ethnicities. Despite its small size, Shine did not shy away from this opportunity but dove in with energy and compassion. As the only church in the area offering assistance to homeowners, the congregation began to care for their neighbors in personal and tangible ways week after week. “We have been able to walk alongside families who feel forgotten and overwhelmed [now that the initial crisis is over], showing them the ‘always-ness’ of Jesus,” Jaron says.
From those first days of home demolition, trash removal, mold abatement, yard work and pressure-washing to the continued work of lay counseling, helping navigate FEMA paperwork and hosting community holiday events, Shine has now touched more than 100 Harvey-impacted families. Jesus’ love is being shared through physical labor and practical help, providing the opportunity for Shine and volunteers from other EFCA churches to listen to these homeowners’ stories and pray with them, showing and sharing the gospel through serving.
Post-Harvey, the average weekly number of people attending Shine started to increase and has continued to steadily grow. None of the growth has been due to any aggressive marketing campaign, although a few people actually visited Shine because they saw the pre-Harvey magazine ad. Some of the new people are homeowners. Some found Shine by searching online for a church to attend in the area. And some have visited through word of mouth.
Why do these visitors stick around? It’s become clear to Jaron and the congregation that people can see Shine’s commitment to the community. Neighbors now want to be part of what Shine is doing and who they are as a church.
Over 110 people now call Shine Bible Fellowship their home church. Despite the widespread devastation, Harvey was a catalyst for growth for Shine Bible Fellowship, propelling its vision and enlarging its capacity to reach the community. New leaders are being trained and developed, new staff members are being hired and a search has begun to find a new permanent location for the church. In addition, the momentum has provided Jaron the platform to challenge each member to “level up” in 2018: to serve on a ministry team, give consistently and commit 28 hours to outreach.
Every second and fourth Saturday, volunteers from Shine and other EFCA churches work with homeowners to help make their houses livable again. EFCA Crisis Response hosts week-long volunteer teams and partners with Shine to complete larger renovation projects in flood-damaged homes. The farther away from the day a crisis hits, there are fewer and fewer organizations who offer help and resources. “For many, just knowing that people are still out here trying to help has given them hope,” Jaron reports.
Thousands of homes in Houston are still being renovated and will continue to be renovated for months to come. The work is far from over, but Shine Bible Fellowship remains devoted to serving their community, no matter how long it takes.
Shine Bible Fellowship and other EFCA churches in the Harvey-impacted area continue to need your help. As we like to say in the EFCA, we are better together! To send a team from your church to be part of the Hurricane Harvey response, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Keep up with Shine Bible Fellowship via Facebook, Instagram or on their website.