November 30, 2009

Church Experiment #48: City Gospel Chapel

God has a silly sense of humor.

Lots of backstory this week.

First, my friend Jason spends a significant amount of time interacting with Cincinnati’s poor and homeless. He introduced me to City Gospel’s Chapel service ( Basically, every evening, City Gospel provides a meal at 7:30 PM for those in need. Before that meal, everyone is required to attend a 45-minute Chapel service. Various churches in the area take turns leading the service. Jason mentioned it might be an interesting stop for my experiment. [I’m not sure if City Gospel still does this. I couldn’t find any information about it on their website. They still serve dinner, but it doesn’t look like they host the chapel service anymore.]

Second, last week opened my eyes to one unavoidable fact: I am uncomfortable around the poor and homeless. So, this week, I wanted to stretch myself. Sunday evening, I attended City Gospel’s Chapel service. I honestly had no idea what to expect, but I was very nervous. It was dark, the service was located in a fairly rough part of Cincinnati, and I am a crazy germaphobe.

I am not proud of most of what I will say in this post, but it’s reality. I was scared of catching something. Every time someone coughed or sneezed, all I thought about was germs filling the air. I even left my gloves on in case anyone shook my hand. I know, I know … it’s super lame, but it’s the truth.

Third (and here’s the silly part), I helped plant a church a few years earlier in Clifton. One of the first attendees was named Doug. Doug eventually became a leader in the church. We were in a small group together, hung out on occasion, and I even visited a strip club with his wife (long story … not as creepy as it sounds; you can read all about it in my next book). Doug developed a friendship with a guy named Anthony. Because of that friendship, Anthony eventually began attending our church. While there, Anthony committed his life to Jesus and got baptized. Doug and Anthony continued hanging around that church until the summer of 2009. They left in order to help plant another new church in uptown Cincinnati. That church happens to be an Acts 29 church. And … that church happened to volunteer the week of my visit to lead City Gospel’s Chapel service.

To finish reading about this experience or any of the reflections from my 52 visits, please purchase the full book here.


Anonymous said...

I have a lot to say about giving money to the homeless. In part because I grew up in San Francisco, which has a huge homeless population that I basically ignored for most of my life. I was either annoyed or immune to the people I saw in the streets where I grew up and went to school, and I knew that giving money to some folks is fueling drug or drinking problems, and so I tended to ignore the homeless. I always felt uncomfortable around them, too.

When I became a Christian (very recently), the first thing that changed for me outwardly was that I started trying to give money to whoever asked me. Not that I am doing this perfectly. Not a lot of money, either, sometimes just a quarter or a few pennies or whatever I have. Sometimes, if I am planning ahead, I will carry around extra bottles of water or food in my purse to give away if I am asked by someone in need. It was like I was driven to do this at first by something outside of myself, and then it became harder and harder because I would start rationalizing, thinking I didn't have enough time to stop and get my wallet out for every single person, or that the person was a creep or a wino and didn't "deserve" what I had to give.

But Steve makes a good point. None of us "deserve" what we have. It's not up to me to pre-judge someone's motives or character. It's about responding to another human, who is also made in God's image. It's about not hardening my heart, not turning away from their need, even if I suspect it's a "bad" need. I can't love them and change them like God can, but I can listen to what they are asking of me and respond with some resemblance of Christ's love, even if it's just a smile and a "I'm sorry, I don't have anything to give today".

A few months ago I would have thought this was a naive way of thinking, a "bleeding-heart" solution. I can't believe how doing it has changed me, profoundly, from the inside-out. This isn't to say that by doing this I will fix drug addictions or huge social issues, but it's the best I can do for today. That and a prayer.

Sorry this is so long. Thanks Steve, your blog really raises a lot of good stuff to think about. Hope the rest of your experiment is fruitful. Best wishes.

The Reverend said...

Anonymous is spot on. A few months ago I talked with a lady that runs a homeless outreach place up here. Her simple advice - if you see someone asking for money or whatever, ask God what you should do. If he leads you to give, give. If not, move on. Pretty simple, but it makes sense.

Joe said...

"I think homeless people say what they think others want to hear. Well-intending Christians can get taken advantage of."

My experience is that you can just as easily replace the word "homeless" with "wealthy", "religious" or "most" and it holds up.

stephanie said...

I was in class this summer and fellow seminary student asked a professor, who was talking about this very issue, asked, "What about being taken advantage of? Shouldn't we be extra cautious with this?"

My professor's reply was this: "Do we not all take advantage of God every single day?"

Changed my life. Still working on living it out, but that reply changed my life.

Cyndi said...

I grew up in a large home in a nice area with just about everything I ever wanted. But I also grew up with a mother that gave whatever she could, including her time. She set a great example for me. It isn't about how much you have, but how you treat others. You don't have to give them everything you have, you don't have to give them a dime - but do treat them with respect.

I've been to a squatters village in Honduras - where most Hondurans don't want to go. I still wore my Eddie Bauer clothes and my Brighton earrings and my diamond wedding band. But I handed them a bottle of water and a snack bag and asked them if I could pray for them. I wanted to hear their stories, but we didn't have the time. I wondered if they'd be bitter as we got back on our air conditioned bus to head back to our hotel, but they stood in the road smiling and waving at us.

I think the most important thing we can do is let someone know that they matter. That they aren't forgotten, and we do care.

Lee said...

When I was working in the insurance sales business many, many years ago, we were taught that it may take 99 "no's" to get to that 1 "yes."

I think about this when I hand over money to anyone who asks (and I've taken orders and bought lunch a few times as well). Sure, it may be used to buy cigarettes or alcohol or drugs, but thats their choice. To me, God is about unconditional love. So I give unconditionally, knowing this may be one of hundreds of wrong choices that may need to happen before that person makes a good choice.

But if I give when I can, then I live in a world where people help each other. And if I judge and withhold, then my "world" is one where people judge and withold. I hope that made sense!

Great post - love your honesty about the gloves!

ylmurph said...

"And apathy is our dog that keeps humping the neighbor's leg."
-is it bad that that was my favorite line? or just show that I'm shallow? I liked the stuff about Anthony's life being a letter just wasn't as funny.

most of us talk about it/write about it or even plan meetings or events to "help" in one way or another. Doug sounds a bit different. He's probably doing it the way we talk about/write about...
maybe there's something to that?

Jason Boys said...

Interesting post. I've been to about 5 services at City Gospel now and seen 5 different churches host. I’ve definitely never seen the crowd broken in to small groups. Pretty cool. All I can say is that fear is driven by the unknown. Like I said to you last night, the more you make it down there, the more comfortable you will be. There will always be crazy people yelling crazy stuff, weird smells and other things that lead to uncomfortable moments, but it seems to get easier. Just like anyone else, I get fired up about things for a while, then I get burnt out. I’ll spend some time down there, then I’ll slowly stop. I have realized that every time I start going back after an extended absence, there is always a readjustment period. I think that if you really feel like you should be doing more or feel bad for being so uncomfortable, just go back. I bet that you would be way more relaxed the next time you go just because you would know what you were walking in to. It would probably get better every time. I wouldn’t feel too bad about the glove thing. I was there for the weekend about a month ago and I bet I used almost a whole bottle of hand-sanitizer. I’ll shake anyone’s hand or give anyone a hug, but there’s nothing wrong with doing your part to slow down the swine flu.

I was thinking a little about the panhandling thing that seems to have become a theme for these comments. My brother-in-law was just in town for Thanksgiving and the topic came up when someone asked us for change. Brent knew that I spent a little time with homeless people, so he asked me how I usually dealt with people who asked me for change. I told him that I don’t really have a set routine. I tend to agree with most of the above comments. While I know that my money will often go to a 40 or some drugs, it’s not up to me to make those decisions. I usually just go with my gut. If I have some change, I’ll often give it away. If someone is standing by the bus stop asking for fare, I might give them a buck or two. If I don’t have cash or don’t feel comfortable with the situation, I don’t feel bad saying no. Often times, if someone is asking for change outside of a store that I am walking in to, I’ll ask them if I can grab something for them inside. There is a guy who sits outside of a local IGA that I go to every couple of days. A lot of time, I don’t have cash, so I ask him what I can grab. Three times now he has asked if I would get him a jumbo Snickers. Of course I’ll get him a jumbo Snickers. Why not?

Anyway, nice post. I’m always interested to hear people’s takes on this topic.

Rohmeo said...


Our housechurch (that meets in West Chester) part of Apex Community Church in Dayton serves dinner there at the City Gospel Mission once a month. Although I'm serving them...I'm getting a dose of humble pie. My heart longs for those people that long for such the basic of needs we take for granted...I feel a sense of guilt that I need to do more.

I can see both how hard it can be to see Jesus through those circumstances and how easy it could be for some to only see Jesus when you have nothing else. Depends on how the Holy Spirit is working in each life. I agree that even if 99 of them are "using" us that 1 person might see the Gospel and see Christ. That will be worth it to me so if one of them cusses me out for giving them a Sprite instead of Coke...I just smile, turn it around and love on them as best I can in that sniff of a timeframe we have.

BTW, I'm with you on the germaphobe thing. After watching Howie Mandel's story this weekend I had lump in my throat how similar I can be to that. I even tried Bowling with my elbow with my son this weekend...not recommended. Can you imagine where all those hands have been?

samarahuel said...

I'm wondering if it's wrong to say to a person asking for change that you'll give them what you have if they'd be willing to sit with you and talk about the gospel. Sort of like a small-scale version of the City Gospel Chapel? What do others think? Is this too manipulative?

Anonymous said...

once again Steve and other commenters
you have touched me with your honesty.

i have had to really get honest with myself and while volunteering at a local food pantry, i make myself stop judging other's worthiness or neediness and try to see everyone just as a human being.
there by the grace of God go us all~
if we are in the position to help another we should: someday it may be us or our children or our parents and how would we want to be treated?

it all comes back to the golden rule
learn it and live it and pass it on


Nathanael said...

Favorite quotes:

"I'm...checking text messages on my Google Phone, eating a bowl of cereal, and looking forward to curling up in my soft bed. I don't deserve any of it. Luck of the draw...Comfort has become my mistress. Security is our illegitimate child. And apathy is our dog that keeps humping the neighbor's leg."

Did he intentionally decide to do this the week after Thanksgiving?

Ruth said...

I have really been convicted lately of the comfort that I have here, and my ease of closing my eyes to the discomfort of others around the world. I have been reading a book called, "Revolution in World Missions" (K.P. Yohannan) about believers in Asia who are giving their lives under very real possibility of death to travel to others in their own part of the world who have never heard the good news of Jesus. Then I compare that to my pleas for comfort and prayers for health. Having a bout with bronchitis and thinking about every breath recently, I kept wondering why my kids and I were getting so sick this fall already, when I do almost everything possible to keep us well, and I felt angry and questioning toward God. Then I kept hearing a verse from James, "you have not because you ask not, and when you ask, you don't receive, because you ask that you may consume it on your own pleasure." I had some forced time to think about how, when I'm not feeling bad, I don't think much about those who are persecuted for their faith and in need. I consume my time, energy (health & breath!) and resources in many good ways, but not like I would when I think about every breath being a gift! I was/am being convicted that "to whom much is given, much will be required." I don't think what I / we have is the luck of the draw. He has given it to me for a purpose to spread it around according to His purpose, not consume on myself. Ouch. Seems like a theme here...

Steve Fuller said...

Really enjoying the comments this week. Great stuff, everyone.

Reverb said...

During a nice deep slumber - the lights get flipped on...full blast.


It's so bright I can't even see and I just want to bury my face in the pillow.

But what if I don't?

What if I decide to open them and power through the discomfort? Eventually that pain and confusion turns into the ability to see things I never could have with my face shoved into a pillow.

Sarah said...

Steve (and anyone else!), I wanted to recommend a book to you..."Same Kind of Different as Me" really changed my whole view of the homeless and what God can do with just one person taking the time to REALLY care about them, not just once or twice a year.It was verrrry convicting and just good stuff.
And I, too, love your honesty. It's refreshing!

Rohmeo said...

Steve and everyone,

Many of you know of Matt Chandler, the teaching pastor at the Village Church in Dallas, TX. He had a seizure last week and they found out he has a brain is this Friday. They won't know how bad it could be until they go in to remove it. 34 yrs old, husband and father of 3 kids.

This dude along with his Reformed buddies Driscoll, Keller, Piper etc. has a gift like few other's of preaching the word and reaching the church and unchurched with the Gospel. He has been a channel of growth for me the last few years with his challenging passion for Christ.

Hope we can all bathe his family in prayer at this time. Looking for God's Sovereignty in this...

Steve Fuller said...

Wow, Rohmeo, that is terrible news. Thanks for the update. I will certainly pray.

Jason Boys said...


I must say that I wouldn't be too comfortable taking that approach. It is my opinion that it isn't right to bribe people in to listening to the gospel. As a matter of fact, that is one issue that I have with the set up at City Gospel. In order to get in to get the free dinner, people must first sit through the chapel service that Fuller sat through. I love City Gospel, and I think they do a ton of great stuff. That set up has just always struck me as a little backwards. My thoughts would be to invite people in for dinner, talk with them, build relationships then invite them to church. In a perfect world, I guess.

Cyndi said...

I'm with Jason Boys on the order of things - dinner, then connect, then invite them to church.

Our church (Dayton Vineyard - Dayton campus) serves breakfast to 200+ people every Thursday morning. They sit, we take their order, bring them their food and seconds if they want it, then we clear the tables. We serve the meal on real plates which are hand-washed afterwards. The people who come in feel respected. We talk to them, listen to their stories, pray with them and invite them to church.

Only a small percentage have started attending church at our campus. One Sunday one of the homeless guys who hangs around our church actually came in and sat in the pews for the entire service. We were so happy that he felt comfortable to come in and sit with us. He was there because he wanted to be there - not because we were serving him a meal. It felt like a touchdown.

Amy said...


Once again...thanks so much for your honesty. I appreciate that about you and I think you hit the nail on the head - comfort is our mistress. And man, how our love of comfort keeps us from experiencing all that God has for us. I went to Uganda in September and saw poverty like I've never imagined. I saw God more clearly there than I have in my 29 years of knowing Him and it's because I finally removed myself from my ridiculously comfort-ridden life. All I know is I should have done it long ago. I've been beautifully wrecked ever since. I wrote a blog post a while back
that had the following quote in it from Francis Chan:
"Life is comfortable when you separate yourself from people who are different from you. But God doesn't call us to be comfortable. He calls us to trust Him so completely that we are unafraid to put ourselves in situations where we will be in trouble if He doesn't come through."

So, thanks for causing us to stop and think this week about the ways that we separate ourselves from people who are different then us. From what I can tell in scripture, those are exactly the people Jesus sought out. Maybe some day we'll clue in. I hope it's soon.

samarahuel said...

Oh, bummer. I had just typed up a fairly lengthy post, but alas, an error caused it all to be deleted. Oh well, here are God's words, minus my commentary, because apparently, they don't need it.

"Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour. And a man lame from birth was being carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple that is called the Beautiful Gate to ask alms of those entering the temple. Seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked to receive alms. And Peter directed his gaze at him, as did John, and said, 'Look at us.' And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them. But Peter said, 'I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!' And he took him by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. And leaping up he stood and began to walk, and entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God. And all the people saw him walking and praising God, and recognized him as the one who sat at the Beautiful Gate of the temple, asking for alms. And they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him." Acts 3:1-10

"But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect" 1 Peter 3:15

not anonymous splendid said...

i find it more than ironic that you have been spammed by a money thing on this post...

aleyamma said...

i think i'm a first time commenter, but i honestly don't remember, because if i haven't commented on the site, i've certainly commented in my head.

i wanted to lovingly point out that you left a lot of questions open in this post (which i haven't seen you do before) about the personal aspect of the visit. what happened after the service? did anyone shake your hands? did doug and anthony talk to you? did you end up taking your gloves off? did you join them for the meal? did you cut out before folks saw you? how did it feel to go home that night?

anna said...

I know you are into podcasts and the like. Woodland Hills in MN (Greg Boyd) just finished up an amazing series on this very topic. It's called "Compassion by Command". It's quite lengthy (9 weeks I think) but totally worth the listen.
It really challenged our family, and Greg Boyd always connects me.
From what I have read on your blog, you'd probably really enjoy Greg. I know I hold many of the same views and have found that his presentation of the Gospel is the most powerful on the personal and relational level.
Anyway I loved this blog, and thank you for sharing your experiences.

sbradley said...

Wow Steve, so much comes to mind that would take entirely to long to say regarding your blog. I'll start with my name, I am Sherman Bradley VP of City Gospel Mission where you visited and now blog about. I have also spoken with Doug and Anthony and their Pastor Michael Clary who I believe you speak about. I would love to chat with you an offer you some insight into the world you briefly explored and sat with trepidation and anxiety. It is not nearly as frightful as you have depicted. Nor is it difficult to make an impact if you have a willing heart and the right tools. I also invite you to our "Understanding Poverty" workshop on Feb. 6th 2010 to learn more so you can make a positive difference as Doug has in Anthony's life. You can learn more about the event at our site and you can reach me at