Three small churches known as The Bridge Church Network have put hands and feet to their mission to spread the love of Christ in their underserved neighborhoods in the Phoenix, Arizona, area.
Bridge Rio Vista, Bridge Casa de Amor and Bridge Retro work in the trenches. They distribute food and clothing, walk the streets getting to know their neighbors on a personal level, and offer a place at the table for the needy and the lost.
Bridge Casa de Amor and Bridge Retro were both church plants from Bridge Rio Vista. They linked together to determine health and sustainability in each of their ministries and greater effectiveness in reaching the lost.
“Each church has its own leadership team,” said Tim Lesher, pastor of Casa de Amor, Mesa. “We work together as a whole to support each other. We spend time together to encourage one another. We meet to discuss finances, leadership and church planting, to hold each other accountable and avoid the isolation and loneliness that often come when you’re doing ministry alone.”
The goal for each church is the same but methods vary by community. One neighborhood has multicultural, multigenerational families that have lived there for decades. Another has a large population of homeless people. Yet another has a mix of both.
“Every church has its own heartbeat,” said Mark Pratt, pastor of Bridge Retro, Phoenix, the newest church plant. “We go into our community weekly and get to know our neighbors, the homeless, the business owners. We take church beyond our walls.”
Bridge Retro hosts men’s and women’s discipleship groups. The men in the group are volunteers who distribute food or personally receive the food when it is distributed.
The women are either being discipled or are discipling others. Pratt believes in a “long-walk ministry.” As people grow, the church walks with them in life with Christ at the center.
The Bridge Church Network partners with Arizona Baptist Children’s Services & Family Ministries. Bridge Network churches share property with ABCS and with the help of volunteers, distribute life-sustaining food and clothing.
“It’s unique,” said Israel Barraza, pastor of Bridge Rio Vista, Phoenix. “Bridge Network and ABCS are different entities, yet they work closely together. People come and get their needs met. That opens doors to build relationships and share the Gospel.”
Many church members were people who received food boxes or clothing or used one of the other ABCS ministries on site. Now they are part of the church or they are volunteers serving at Rio Vista Center during the week.
“That’s probably my favorite part,” Barraza said.
The Bridge pastors believe in ABCS’ mission and vision. They want a thriving Gospel-centered, Bible-teaching church in the communities where people are being reached through the services of the ABCS Community Resource Centers ministry. They want those people to find a place to connect and belong.
“That is the driving desire behind the Bridge Network and why we do what we do,” Lesher said. “ABCS is a phenomenal partner, because it allows us to be the church God has called us to be. We know we have this large network of partners who love and care about what we do. We’re not doing it alone.”
EDITOR’S NOTE — This article was written by Irene Harkleroad, and originally appeared in Portraits, a publication of Arizona Baptists.