LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Congregations often struggle with the impact they're making not only within their own walls, but also with others. Sometimes when they make a decision to reach out to the community, they find themselves competing with similar programs from other churches.
But what if a number of different congregations decided to band together for the greater good?
In Lexington, 16 to 20 churches cooperate by taking turns leading a worship service every week throughout the year in a poorer section of their city.
There they offer the homeless and others struggling with their circumstances such things as free medical exams by a doctor or nurse practitioner. A barber is often on hand, and boxes of donated clothes are lined up for attendees to choose from.
After every worship service, there's a good meal so those who come can leave both spiritually and physically fed.
"We have a lot of really good ministers," Miles Hendon, a frequent attendee, said. "We have some really good music, and the food is excellent."
The Sunday event is called Church Under the Bridge, which is funny since there's no bridge in sight. It was named by one of founders of the Lexington event who saw a similar ministry among the homeless in Austin, Texas, that really does take place under a bridge.
Charlie Younger has been preaching at the Lexington Church Under the Bridge for years.
"God just pretty much put on my heart that it was important for me to give back just a portion of what He has so graciously given to me," Younger said.
He can relate to the hard times many of the attendees go through.
"I was homeless once," he told CBN News. "I lived in the front seat of my pickup truck for a while when I was an active alcoholic. But that's been awhile back. God brought me out of that."
Now Younger shows others at Church Under the Bridge how God can do the same for them.
Eric Ogle usually comes to the services. He knows what it's like to see your life spiral out of control from homelessness.
"I got arrested the first time I got homeless in 2005," the tall, thin young man said. "I did six months in jail."
But Church Under the Bridge transformed his life.
"I've been going here about seven years now," Ogle stated, "and I changed as a person, spiritually."
Facing Hard Times
Ogle says many who attend Church Under the Bridge have serious problems.
"People are facing hard times. A lot of them don't have jobs," Ogle said, looking at those gathered for the worship service and free meal. "A lot of them have mental issues."
Here they find a doctor or nurse ready to help them, as well as other needed aid and comfort.
"Sometimes it's as small as a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a roll of toilet paper," Michael Windhorn, a Church Under the Bridge board member, said. "But any little bit helps and helps to lift their spirits."
Windhorn advises Christians never to look down on folks who come to an event sponsored by Church Under the Bridge.
"Really anybody can end up in a situation where they need help," he said.
Windhorn and many of the volunteers who pitch in on the Sunday afternoon outreaches can help in many ways to change people's lives.
Opening Up Her Teens' Hearts
"I just feel so blessed in my life to have what I have," said Kristen Ray of Crossroads Christian Church, "and so just to be able to give back a little bit -- it's good."
Ray makes sure her teenage children always take part.
"It's funny because sometimes they don't really want to come," Ray told CBN News. "But after they've been, they say 'I'm so glad I went.'"
She's gratified to see how serving this crowd has opened up her teenagers' hearts, like the day her daughter gave away the earrings she was wearing.
"This lady just fell in love with these earrings," Ray said of one of the attendees. "And my daughter just took them off and gave them to her. That was kind of a neat thing."
Beyond Church Walls
Such generosity shines through every week and Windhorn said that brings a crucial message.
"Christ's body and Christ's love really go beyond just what happens between some church walls," Windhorn said.
For a couple of hours on Sunday afternoons, Lexington can witness churches working together to show Jesus' love to downtrodden people.
Miles Hendon, who's been coming for seven years, told CBN News, "I think sometimes we get a little too worried about denominations or dogmas. And I think this is an excellent example of how churches can work together."
"I think it's vital," Younger said. "It shows the rest of the community that there is a Body of Christ -- that it really does exist and we come together in unity to serve the community."
Unity, serving and a love for others: it's a simple winning formula straight from the Bible -- and something congregations in other cities wanting to reach beyond their church walls might consider emulating.