There are two answers to this question, one personal and the other strategic.
When Sarah and I were thinking of buying a house the first time we lived in Milwaukee (2003) we looked in Riverwest. I wish I could say that my motive for moving into Riverwest for the first time was because I had this urge to engage in an incarnational ministry among the people of Riverwest…it wasn’t. The house we bought was sweet! It was an urban loft and my coolness factor went through the roof when we bought this house. THANK YOU SARAH!
But then I met some of our neighbors. Then Sarah and I began having incredible interactions with people at the city park near our house. I started to deeply appreciate watching our pasty white boy playing at the splash pad with mostly African American and Hispanic kids. I loved that the local coffee Shop, Alterra, had moved their headquarters and roasting into a shop in our neighborhood. I loved that we had a local hardware store, and a bike race, and a motorcycle rally, and a coffee shop that had two neon signs that said; ‘killer coffee’, ‘lousy service’, and I loved that it had a bike path that took us straight down to the lakefront. I loved all the diversity (economic, racial, and political) of the neighborhood. I loved that we were able to expose our son to the reality of life in this world with all its complexities, sinfulness, and beauty. But what I loved most was the number Christian families attempting to model their faith in the city that was contagious and missional. These families in Riverwest were a beacon of light that I prayed our family would be one day. But the sad truth was that these families left their lighthouse on Sunday to go to church in different neighborhoods. The light left Riverwest on Sunday morning. A family in Riverwest that once told me that they would love to bring their neighbors to church. Yet, they couldn’t because they didn’t have room in their car, but if they could walk to church it would be different. There are churches in Riverwest, but there are not enough. Riverwest needs another vibrant church, a ‘third place’ where people can bring their friends to see the love of God manifested in His People gathered together in worship.
The objective reason for planting a church in Riverwest supports the personal and intuitive belief that a church in Riverwest is needed. The population holds steady at about 11,000 people. There are more non-Anglo persons living in Riverwest than Anglo persons (56%/44%). In this neighborhood of 11,000 there is one Lutheran church and two Roman Catholic Churches along with a storefront church here and there. Without exaggeration I can say that Christ’s church is barely present in Riverwest. Of the 11,000 people in this zip code, 35% have no religious affiliation and another 13% have vocally expressed the need for a good church in the neighborhood. Riverwest has many social needs that a church could help meet. There is a huge need for pastoral care in the neighborhood. Some of the issues that pastoral care would address are domestic abuse, drug/alcohol abuse, and teen/child problems. There is also high level of neighborhood crime and safety issues that the establishment of strong families and home owners could help to bring down.
In Jeremiah 29, the people of God are hearing from two prophets. One is telling them what they want to hear and the other (Jeremiah) is telling the truth. What they want to hear is that they are going to be leaving Babylon soon. But God had a different word for them;
“Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” (Jer. 29:4-7)
Riverwest needs missional communities and families that are ‘seeking the welfare of the city’. That is why we are planting a church in Riverwest.