The graffiti message scrawled on the building next door to the church screamed, Satan Is Alive! But that did not deter Randy Brown from becoming the pastor of Military Avenue Evangelical Presbyterian Church in 1989.
Located in inner city Detroit, Military Ave. EPC had enjoyed a distinguished history for a small congregation. Records show the church in its heyday, gave almost 50% of its income to missions. The congregation was so well-respected that the renowned Dr. Donald Grey Barnhouse spoke there once.
But by 1989, a declining Detroit had swallowed up the former proud working-class neighborhood. Instead of houses filled with working families, the community around the church teemed with the homeless, drug addicts, and prostitutes. Military Avenue EPC was destined to disappear unless something drastic happened.
Nineteen years later, Military Avenue EPC is alive and doing good in its community. In the past ten years the congregation has built two new buildings including a full-size basketball gym. Drug addicts have found Christ and become active church members, neighborhood kids swarm into the church for one-on-one tutoring, and struggling families find support each week. This small church ministers to the urban poor each week by:
- Meeting real needs. Each week dozens of families line up at the church to receive a bag of groceries after attending a brief worship service. Randy said, “Our goal is to show compassion, but we also want to share the gospel, the real bread of life.” With hard economic times, the food program has grown from 20 families to over 150 each week.
- Connecting with kids. Each evening dozens of school children come to the church’s gym for tutoring. Church and community volunteers sit with each child, helping them grasp math and science, but also teaching them valuable life lessons. Several students in the program have become the first in their families to go on to college.
- Welcoming volunteers. The church welcomes over 300 volunteers a year to help with its ministry to Detroit’s poor. Staffed by volunteers, Vacation Bible School reaches dozens of kids each summer. Volunteer groups have come from all over the country to Detroit’s inner city to work.
- Seeking broad support. Military Avenue EPC functions like a mission, according to Dr. Brown. Church members alone could not bear the financial cost of building a gym, or maintaining the church’s food and tutoring programs. Their presbytery provides some financial support, and interested individuals have given generously for building programs.
- Focusing on their community. “Our target group is the urban poor,” Brown commented. The church is committed to staying and serving in its community for as long as it can. “This is a small church with a big ministry,” he added.
About 100 gather for Sunday worship, but the church touches over 1,000 different people each year. About 300 kids participate in their after-school programs, including a basketball program that reaches out to street-wise young men in the inner city. The Satan Is Alive graffiti is gone, too. A couple of years ago the church bought that building, and turned it into The Solid Rock Cafe for teens. “In the inner city,” Randy noted, “success means we’re still here. Ask people to pray for us. We’re in a battle.”
*This article appeared first in Outreach magazine’s Nov/Dec 2008 issue in my column, ‘Small Church, Big Idea’, under the title, ‘Making Some Moves in Motown.’