“Snoop Dogg will be at Element Church on Saturday night!” A tweet like that is enough to make anyone do a double take. But you read that right…technically. Meeting at Mr. Smalls Theater, the premier concert venue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Element Church frequently shares their auditorium with some of the top acts in the music business. For the young adults in Millvale, Pennsylvania, Mr. Smalls Theater is a location that they are familiar with, which ultimately translates into them being willing to attend Element Church. While some are drawn to the church by the intrigue of the venue, others are drawn in by the relationships that have been built as Rich and Jodi Jones and their team have served and loved their neighbors in the Millvale community.
In the summer of 2008, a group called Millvale Matters went into the area with one purpose – bring positive change to a devastated community. Previously the gateway to the North Hills of Pittsburgh, Millvale had been a thriving community. But when Hurricane Ivan blew up the East Coast with heavy rains, it brought floodwaters that destroyed Millvale. After getting their homes and lives back together, more heavy rain came to the area, causing many residents to give up on the location and move away. “They became a pocket of hurting people,” says Rich. “We started looking for ways to serve the town – clean up projects with residents, landscaping and block parties.”
Their volunteer efforts paved the way for Element Church to move into town in August of 2009. “The work we did with Millvale Matters showed them that we weren’t interested in doing something to them, but doing something for them,” Rich says. “People are so suspect of churches, sometimes understandably, sometimes not. They’re often painted as organizations that want their money or want to control them. We don’t want to control you or care if you ever give to us. We want to represent Christ by serving you. As we started to turn into a church, there was a lot of trust already established. They saw those at the front of Millvale Matters were also at the front of Element Church, which helped.”
Rich attributes part of Element Church’s success to the connections and support they received from various church planting networks. “It’s great to be a part of the MultiChurch Movements (MCM) Network and a fellowship that believes in reaching out missionally,” he says. “There’s such an emphasis in church planting and doing church in new ways. I love connections to both of those because it gives us strength to be able to draw from and to be able to pour back into others. We’re able to encourage one another and help one another with things we’ve learned in our process. Guys who planted before me did that and now I have the opportunity to do that.”
Since launching in August of 2009, Rich and his team have watched as lives change in their church. “One girl has been a part of our church since the beginning. She’s journeyed some difficult roads, but we’re watching spiritual growth happen,” he explains. “She continually invites more guests to Element Church than anyone in the church, excluding staff members. She’s been crazy about it, inviting neighbors and family members,” says Rich. “Lots of people are coming to Christ because she’s inviting them to church.”
To learn more about Element Church, visit their Web site by clicking here. And for more stories about church plants like this one, check out the 2011 edition of CMN’s Groundbreaking Church Plants magazine by clicking here.
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