Hoboken Grace moved into Jersey City three years ago, launching a separate location in Hamilton Park. From Day One, its goal was to love the community in a way that mirrors God’s love for His people. The church began pouring into the community through initiatives such as Simple Service and 1Day Jersey City. And as it opened its doors each Sunday, God began to use the Hamilton Park location to help people find their way back to Him.
On Easter 2015 – a year ago this month – the Hamilton Park location became the first daughter church of Hoboken Grace. Downtown Community Church, as it is now called, has established deeper roots in the community and welcomed hundreds of people through its doors. To celebrate the church’s first birthday, we sat down with Wayne Burton, its pastor, to talk about the past year.
It’s been a year since you launched as Downtown Community. What have been some of the highlights?
Launching on Easter last year was really fun because we had so many people come. That was technically our first day. I think the first highlight was transitioning to Downtown Community. We had people step up and be a part of our experience who had never really served before.
We believe there are people here in Jersey City that would not connect to a church unless there was a local church connecting to them. We have been able to develop stronger relationships with the leaders and organizations in our community and in our neighborhood. There are people who don’t attend regularly or at all, but they know more about who we are, and they speak favorably about us. And to me, that’s just amazing.
Another highlight was our Go Jersey City outreach event in June. We built upon the 1Day Jersey City event that we did with Hoboken Grace, and we’ve been able to continue relationships with different parks and organizations. We partnered with St. Anthony’s for a similar event.
Then, there are always small victories. When we made the transition to Downtown Community, it was just our Jersey City group, which was a little scary at the beginning, but that gave us our core. Over the summer, we worked to just create a great foundation. We launched new dinner groups, we had a food truck come, and we just had a big fall kickoff and celebration. And then we started seeing our average attendance jump by about 20 people.
How was Easter?
Easter was very smooth. We had 55 to 60 people serve to make Easter happen. We had people doing Simple Service at the PATH, and people who were preparing the space to accommodate more people. There were so many people who sacrificed to be there and changed their vacation plans. We had someone arrive on a red-eye at 6 a.m. and serve both services. Somebody gave up Elite Eight basketball tickets, just to see this happen.
And to see the neighborhood come, that was a highlight. Our neighborhood in Jersey City knows more about us. There is a trust that we’ve developed, and we saw evidence of that on Easter, after just a year of investing in the community and trying to take steps to love people in the way that God has loved us. We saw people come and say, “I’m going to take this step and attend your church for the first time.” There are always family members who come on Easter, but many people were there because someone brought a friend. There were 240 adults and children.
Heading into Year Two, what are some of the goals moving forward?
We want to keep doing what we’re doing. The goal for us is just to continue to get behind our city and be a part of the solution. And being a hope and a light in our city. Our world is so full of hardship and struggle and hate, and that was really our Easter message, and how we see Jesus step into that and meet people with grace and say I am the light of the world, and if you follow me there is no more darkness. We want to be a light in the city. Jesus showed us how valuable people are. And he loved them whether they believed in Him or not, because they are valuable, because He created them. So that is a goal for us, to just continue to pour into the city, to love them, because that is what Christ has done for us.
What are some other ways that you have poured into the community? You partnered with Uber on Easter, right?
Right, we offered free Uber rides. We had no idea that Hoboken Grace was doing it! We thought we were the first to do anything like that. We just created an Uber event, and essentially gave people free rides to church.
We’ve also been supporting local parks. A lot of our dinner groups do things where events happen in different neighborhoods. So we just helped with a local Easter egg hunt. We always serve at the Jersey City Street Fair, helping them with day-of needs, volunteering. And we’ve done little things like help pass out cards for local events. We want to do that more, see where people need help and just get behind it.
You also threw a birthday party, right?
Yes. We just wanted to celebrate that this has been happening for a year. It blows me away that we have people who are a part of our journey who were not even there last year. And there are people who are leaders who were just beginning their journey with us when we started. I pause and look around, and I’m just blown away by what God has done. And just incredibly grateful. It’s been a great year and we can’t wait to see what God will do next.
To find out more about Downtown Community Church, click here.