By Tommy Hilliker
It started with a bag of groceries to meet a serious need in our community. Our benevolence requests went from six a day to more than 40 a day, and 15 percent of our congregation was out of work. At the peak of the economic recession, our community was hurting and in need of real assistance. In response, Saddleback Church launched its food pantry, which two years later would turn into The PEACE Center.
Jesus said in Mark 9:41, “Anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name … will certainly not lose their reward” (NIV).
Everything we do centers on providing practical help and connection to the church and sharing the hope of Jesus Christ.
People came to our doors the first day we opened them. We have fed more than 80,000 people in south Orange County, Ca. We also provide free legal aid, immigration help, tutoring clubs, ESL classes, medical services, and much more. And the most amazing part is that more than 1,600 people have given their lives to Jesus because of the work done through The PEACE Center. People come not just with hungry stomachs but hungry hearts as well.
If you want to start a PEACE Center in your church, you must first have senior leadership support. Once your leadership is behind you, these simple steps will help you launch a PEACE Center in your community.
Leverage Available Space
We started our food pantry in a room that was being used for storage. As we grew, we converted unused doublewide trailers into The PEACE Center. Just about every church has buildings sitting empty six days a week. Do you have a building or room(s) that can be repurposed during the week for your PEACE Center?
At the launch of our food pantry, our congregation responded by donating 53,000 pounds of food. Today more than 70 percent of our food comes from outside the church. The needs of the community quickly outgrew what our people could support through food drives, so we developed outside strategic partners to donate food to us weekly. We also have partnered with a local medical clinic in order to open up one of our own.
Identify the greatest needs in your community. Our greatest needs are hunger, legal aid, immigration, counseling, education, and medical assistance. We determined to focus strictly on our local giants.
Empower your people to serve. The PEACE Center runs on volunteers; we couldn’t do what we do without them. Each month hundreds of volunteers give us more than 3,400 hours of service.
We have lawyers who oversee the legal aid ministry, teachers who oversee the tutoring ministry, and doctors who oversee the medical clinic. You don’t have to be the expert in every ministry; just find the experts to join your team.
Harness the Power of the Holy Spirit
The saying is true: “Where God guides, he provides.” We didn’t know how to do a food pantry for thousands of people, but God sent us a VP from a major grocery store chain to teach us. At one point, we were running out of food, and God sent a financial donor to buy food every month. There are hundreds of stories of God guiding and providing for our PEACE Center. Trust the Holy Spirit’s power to bring what you need, when you need it.
Any church — regardless of size — can have a PEACE Center. We had no budget or personnel devoted to this ministry when we started. We began with a bag of groceries that turned into a food pantry that turned into a PEACE Center. Now, every day people are finding the hope they need in Jesus Christ.
Tommy serves as the Membership Pastor at Saddleback Church. In this role, he oversees 28 ministries including baptism, CLASS, membership, food pantry, support groups, counseling and the PEACE Center. Tommy has been on staff for ten years.