Getting to Know the Neighborhood
A church plant in Rochester, Minnesota, is discovering and embracing the gifts of its community.
By Tim Poppen
Four years ago, Josh and Nikki Johnson began a new adventure in church planting. In 2015, the Johnsons, both pastors, moved to Rochester, Minnesota. Not concerned with finding a building for worship services or trying to advertise a new ministry in the city, they simply found a neighborhood in need and moved in. They talked with the residents to find their needs and understand the community. They didn’t make a splash; they just tried to connect with the people to find out what God wanted to do in the neighborhood.
“Jesus connected with people,” says Josh. “He was always among the poor and the needy, and he ministered to the forgotten and sometimes outcast people. That’s exactly what we’re trying to do with The Exchange.”
As they’ve connected with people, the Johnsons have invited others to step in and help.
“We are a cooperative where everybody belongs, everybody helps, and everybody grows,” says Nikki. “We ask everyone to help in every situation. And as we all work together, it becomes an empowering situation and brings out even more generosity.”
People at The Exchange share the work in every situation. For example, Thursday evening is the community family dinner night. Around 100 people show up. Rather than being served a prepared meal, the people who gather prepare and serve it together. No one and no job is better than anyone else.
This commitment to sharing the work is not just for the adults; young people are empowered, too. Nikki helps lead the children’s ministry. As part of that, she divides the leadership among the kids and allows them to take the ownership of the program. Someone needs to choose the music and lead the songs. Someone needs to be the tech person and run the computer. Another needs to come up with a game that fits with the night’s theme.
“The kids thrive on this opportunity to lead. But it is always a challenge for me to let go of expectations,” says Nikki. “But the joy and enthusiasm they show in learning is what it’s all about.”
Just recently, a church building in the neighborhood came up for sale. Through the help and generosity of the Classis of Minnesota and the RCA Church Growth Fund, The Exchange was able to purchase this property. And the location has provided new opportunities for ministry.
“There is a new homeless shelter for youth and families right next to the church,” says Josh. “These are the exact people we want in our ministry. It’s amazing how God has placed all these things together, right here, right now.”
How many people does The Exchange minister to? Josh has no idea. “If you ask anyone how many followers Jesus had, the answer would first be 12. But thinking a little deeper you realize that he had many. Hundreds or even thousands. That’s the same with us. We touch many different lives for a week, a month, or a year.”
Day after day, the Johnsons continue to listen for what God wants in their community. They are trying to live like Jesus by connecting with people and letting them know that they are welcome at the table, that they have a voice, and that God can use them just the way they are.
You can find out more about The Exchange at www.exchangeco-op.org.
Tim Poppen is a writer, tech guru, and video producer for the Synod of the Heartland.