An Embedded Church

It’s fascinating. Churchgoers and even many pastors don’t quite know what to do with me. It starts with a mildly puzzled look and then migrates either to excitement (sometimes) or confusion (usually). We meet (by choice) in the Oviedo YMCA. It’s not a “stepping stone” to a more permanent dwelling, it’s the landing spot God has graciously given us. When they learn we worship in the YMCA’s Group Exercise Room (basically a large gym-studio for group classes), most folks will typically ask one of five questions:

  1. When do you plan to get your own building? (The answer, right now, is never.)
  2. Don’t you hate setting up and tearing down every week? (Yes. But it’s worth it.)
  3. What if YMCA members come in wearing their exercise gear? (We actually invite them to do just that!)
  4. The YMCA membership has people from many religions. What if they drift in? (Happens regularly, and we love it!)
  5. Wouldn’t you rather serve in a more “normal” community? (What does that even mean?)

When God moved us into the Oviedo YMCA in 2019, he did something amazing. We had been in the local mall (worshiping in the Regal Cinemas) for almost three years. We had tried to make the mall employees our parish, to love and serve them in the name of Jesus, but we were prevented from doing that. The YMCA invited us to become part of their family. If all we wanted was a place to meet on Sundays, they could provide that. But they asked us to be part of the everyday life in the YMCA Family Center — we are an embedded church.

It’s amazing how many people just do not get the whole idea of “embedding” in a community. It’s so foreign to them. And that’s really sad, because EVERY local church should be vitally embedded in her respective community. I am honored to serve the YMCA membership as one of their two chaplains. I now know most of the regulars by name — and they know me. I have been blessed to become great friends with most of the YMCA staff and am able to serve them in a pastoral capacity as well. I’ve celebrated great victories with some. I’ve cried with others. I was the first call made by one when there was a death in their family because they didn’t have a church home. I sat for over an hour with another who was grieving the suicide of spouse. I connected a precious couple with long-time marital issues to a great local Christian counselor and rejoiced with them that their marriage was saved. The YMCA is our parish.

This opportunity was given to at least two churches before ours. I later learned that both pastors rejected the opportunity because the Group Exercise Room as two walls made completely of windows. One of those pastors actually said, “I don’t want to be on display.” Can you believe it?!? I told the YMCA leadership when we met that I would LOVE to be in that room (the YMCA is open when we worship) precisely because the church of Jesus Christ is supposed to be on display!!!

In my national role, I have sadly come to learn that most local churches in the US are not embedded in their communities. Oh, their physical plant is — but their ministry is not. Many pastors with whom I engage spend most of their time in their Study, working on their teaching and preaching plans. Most parishioners are so busy with their own lives that they never really engage the people in their communities in an effort to woo them to Jesus. When pressed, many church members today can tell you the challenges and issues they face, but cannot explain the deepest needs of those who live in the shadow of their steeple. We’re not talking about commissioning a demographic study — we’re talking about actually getting out there and building redemptive relationships with people.

We certainly take care of our own congregation — but in very real and tangible ways, most of our planning as a church family is done with the Oviedo YMCA in mind. We regularly have YMCA prayer needs (from the organization and also its members) on our prayer wall where our folks go daily to intercede. We plan ministry outreaches specifically for the YMCA members. We sponsor an Immerse Bible Reading Club for YMCA members on Wednesday mornings. Beyond my service as Chaplain, I am now blessed to lead the YMCA Mission Committee for our local Family Center, and I also serve on the YMCA Board. One of our elders led the National Day of Prayer activities for our Y. And recognizing that grief is a growing issue among the Y membership (especially in the wake of COVID), we have just launched a GriefShare ministry that we expect will multiply to other YMCA Family Centers in our region.

When a church becomes inwardly focused, she slowly loses her “embedded” nature. She disconnects from the community God has called her to serve. And eventually, she only exists for her own congregation’s needs. We pray that never happens to us. Our relationship with the Oviedo YMCA is life-giving! In a world where the church is now suspect, we all do well to reengage with our respective communities. Palmwood Church is known here. I think I’m safe in saying that Palmwood Church is trusted here. And we certainly have a redemptive influence on many because of our presence here.

Want to become an “embedded” church in your community? Let’s talk! You can reach me through the CONTACT US page on this website.

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