Grace Church doesn’t view their role in the community as a passive one. Keith Carlson, Pastor of Outreach & Care, along with the rest of the leadership team, sees the fragmented parts of the world and isn’t content to just leave them be. Keith says, “We believe that the role of the church is to do as much as it can to bring healing to those different broken places, and so we do everything we can to get our members and folks at Grace involved in living out their own calling—their own role in bringing healing.”
This includes founding the Grace Care Center a few years ago. Grace Care Center includes three main components: a food pantry, open to anyone; referral and support services; and a vehicle service for those who find themselves lacking transportation in a county largely devoid of good public transit. Keith says, “We wanted to provide a place where people could come and receive healing in a holistic way: relationally, functionally, physically, spiritually.” Despite its outward facing nature, the internal benefits of Grace Care Center are vast and, more importantly, intentional. Committed to transforming their church body, Grace’s service-oriented endeavors also provide its congregation with new experiences meant to help increase both ethnic and socioeconomic diversity. Keith says, “We’ve had a passion for a long time of getting our people out of the comfy confines of Hamilton County and our suburban neighborhoods and inviting them further into different places in the world where they may see a different view of God’s kingdom.”
Currently, Grace boasts a congregation of 5000 members. They serve approximately 450 families every single week through their Care Center, and nearly 300 volunteers assist them. But quantity is less important than the quality of the care each person receives. Indeed, Keith stresses how relational the church aims to be through their community services. For instance, as people go through the food pantry—selecting from a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, dairy and meats—personal shoppers walk with them. They assist the Care Center friends with filling their carts, but also spend time getting to know them, hearing their stories, and offering to pray with them before they leave. “The pantry is kind of our open door to the community,” Keith says. “[We want to] give lots and lots of opportunities for our people to engage with the marginalized and the least of these.”
Grace is committed to missions and to planting new churches, both regionally and internationally, in the gateway cities of the world. “There cannot be too many churches living out the mission in their local context,” Keith explains. Grace is also passionate about worship and about helping their members forge a flourishing relationship with Jesus Christ. “We call it discipleship, but it’s about transformation,” Keith says. “We want to see that happen and we want to create as many opportunities as possible to see that happen.”
Despite walking alongside members of the church and of the community through their most difficult moments, the leadership of Grace still chooses to approach everything they do with a sense of hope. “Within the context of realizing that this is a broken world where there is a lot of pain, at the same time I think that the beauty of redemption and the work of Christ and the cross is God’s desire to restore hope in us and joy in us,” Keith says. After a moment, he adds, “I think that Christian life without joy is an oxymoron; there should be joy there, ultimately.”
To learn more about Grace Church, please visit their website.