By Emily Ploetz
Ministry starts as soon as you take that first step outside your door. This is a statement that the South Meridian Church of God does not take lightly. South Meridian, located in Anderson, Indiana, is what many churches would call “outward-focused,” but not in the way you might think. South Meridian is a church known for specifically reaching out to their immediate environment: their neighborhood. As much as the church does care about the city of Anderson, they realize that God has called their church to be a light in the small neighborhood in which the church building stands. The congregation of South Meridian is very aware that their neighborhood has plenty of needs, since the vast majority of those who live there are low-income families. The church decided many years ago that, as the church, as the hands and feet of Christ, they should fill as many of those needs as possible.
This idea of being a community-focused church started many years ago, back in 2003. South Meridian hosted a “Neighborhood Harvest Party” and invited not just members of the church, but everyone in the neighborhood. This “harvest party” was essentially a block party with food and inflatables for the kids, but was also evangelistic in nature. It was during this event that the church could come together and create bonds with the families living right next door, and it was those bonds that changed the focus of the church.
South Meridian had purchased property and planned to move the church more south of the downtown area. However, as the Holy Spirit moved, the congregation began to realize that they would be abandoning their mission field. Since 2012, 65.6 percent of the people in their neighborhood have been living below the poverty rate. The majority of the children receive free or reduced lunches at school, and many are raised by single parents or grandparents. Moved with compassion, South Meridian has focused on building their youth and children’s ministries. Those ministries are now reaching people who have never stepped foot in church, but live in the neighborhood and are in great need. The Harvest Party is now an annual celebration, and attracts between 1,000 and 1,200 people.
South Meridian’s mission statement is “to become like Jesus together.” Their focus is to build relationships between the church and the community, beginning with the children and youth, and then connecting to their families. Everything is done with the intent of benefiting both the long-standing members of the congregation and those who live in the neighborhood. God has given them a square-mile full of people who need love and life in Christ, so they keep their resources allocated close to home.
South Meridian also partners with the city to attempt to raise abandoned properties and build a park as a safe place for neighborhood children. Four years ago the church installed an outdoor basketball court, because there are no sports fields or courts closer than a half -mile away. The church provides financial assistance when they can, and offers a weekly women’s bible study geared toward single mothers. They have a Works Team that provides renovations, such as covering up graffiti. Every year they have VBS, Trunk ’n’ Treat, and a free Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner. The church hosts tutoring, plus a free meal for children up to the sixth grade every Wednesday night. They have free music classes on Monday, martial arts classes on Friday, and a basketball ministry on Wednesday.
According to Mike Snyder, the Associate Pastor of Student Ministries, “ministry is a marathon.” South Meridian has seen a great number of small victories, and each one provides momentum for the future. South Meridian’s goal for the future is to see every student graduate high school, for every youth to have a chance to go on a youth retreat, and to be connected to every person in the neighborhood as a community.
Emily Ploetz is a communication intern for Church of God Ministries from Cincinnati, Ohio. She is currently studying English education at Anderson University. Learn more about the Church of God at www.JesusIsTheSubject.org.