“Pop Up Church” Aims to Reach Millennials by Taking the Gospel Outside of a Building

Jim Helman, pastor of Downtown Phoenix Church, talks with a visitor during "Pop Up Church" Jan. 25 at Fair Trade Cafe in Phoenix. Instead of trying to draw people to them, the church seeks to go where the people are, build relationships and engage in conversations about Jesus. (Photo by Shawn Hendricks/BP)
Jim Helman, pastor of Downtown Phoenix Church, talks with a visitor during “Pop Up Church” Jan. 25 at Fair Trade Cafe in Phoenix. Instead of trying to draw people to them, the church seeks to go where the people are, build relationships and engage in conversations about Jesus. (Photo by Shawn Hendricks/BP)

At Fair Trade Cafe in downtown Phoenix, where Super Bowl excitement continues to build, the big game seemed to be the last thing on Jim Helman’s mind.

Customers sipped their espressos and chatted at the popular coffee shop earlier this week while Helman and a few fellow Christians had something else brewing just outside in the open courtyard. At a glance, one might think the band warming up was preparing to merely entertain customers. But a closer look and listen revealed a Sunday evening church service was about to, as Helman would say, “pop up.”

Helman, pastor of Downtown Phoenix Church (also called DTPHX Church), says instead of waiting for people to come to them, “Pop Up Church” helps believers take the Gospel to the community.

But Helman described the unconventional method as anything but spontaneous.

“I get real nervous,” he said. “I come down here two hours before we start largely because I want to make sure everything is gonna work right because of technology.”

Since April 2014, Helman has led the church with a focus on reaching the city’s millennial crowd — those born in the ’80s and ’90s — and others he refers to as the “nones” and “dones” (those who don’t claim any particular faith or have quit going to church).

Helman and his wife Colleen, who live in an apartment downtown, both have a heart for the people in the area. Prior to planting the church, Helman had served as a worship pastor at North Phoenix Baptist Church for more than 30 years.

Though the “empty nesters” initially considered international mission work a few years ago, Helman said they saw God opening doors for ministry in their home city.

In an increasingly post-Christian culture, Helman said, church buildings and typical approaches to worship are not attracting many young adults in the downtown Phoenix area.

“They don’t think about going to church on Sunday morning any more than you and I think about going to bingo on Friday nights,” Helman said. “It’s just not on the radar, so rather than trying to be separate from all of that, we try to be a part of that. But … if you come in with some kind of agenda, they’ll be able to tell right away.”

The church tries to keep it simple, he said, with a focus on building relationships within one square mile of the downtown area. Then through those relationships, the church utilizes spaces that are already being used in the community.

Pop Up Church typically meets every other week, usually the second and fourth weekends, and then uses the other two weekends to serve in the area.

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SOURCE: Baptist Press
Shawn Hendricks

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