by Warren Bird
A group of tired but hard-working volunteers after a long night at the Community Care Clinic.
By throwing its doors wide open to a community partner—offering weekly use of one of its multisite campuses to a free community health clinic—CedarCreek Church (Toledo, OH) is expanding its reach, fulfilling its mission and creating a model the church hopes to replicate on other campuses.
A public service from the University of Toledo Medical Center, the free clinic is open to the public every Thursday night in CedarCreek’s South Toledo campus. Since moving to the church’s multisite facility early in 2013, traffic at the free clinic has more than doubled.
“We love finding ways to help our community get better,” says Ben Snyder, Regional Campus Director for CedarCreek. “This is a perfect partnership for us, and we’re thrilled.”
While some may wonder if hosting a free medical clinic fits with the mission of a church, CedarCreek leaders see the clinic as a spot-on match for its mission of reaching “spiritually restless and unchurched people.”
As Ben says: “We know that if you have a food insecurity or health insecurity, you could step into the best weekend service of your life, but because of where you are physically, you will be worrying or thinking about or processing some of those immediate needs.”
“So if the church can help provide services, especially free health care, then we begin to eliminate a physical obstacle so people can encounter their real spiritual opportunity by encountering Christ.”
For the full story, see this video interview between Warren Bird and Ben Snyder.
A Match Made in Heaven
The timing of the move was no coincidence. When CedarCreek opened its South Toledo campus in a renovated grocery store complete with full kitchen, its leaders had been discussing how to best serve the needy neighborhood. Free hot meals were a top consideration.
“I live practically across the street from the campus and knew the neighborhood,” Ben says. “So I thought hot meals might not be the most urgent need, but free medical care or some kind of medical assistance might be more impactful.”
So Ben’s campus team was discussing how to address medical needs in the community when a CedarCreek attender informed leaders that the physician who ran a free local clinic was being charged rent and could no longer afford to pay. The clinic might have to shut down if someone didn’t step in.
The public can receive a hot meal in addition to medical care every Thursday night at the clinic.
Ben met with “Dr. Paat,” the University of Toledo Med Center doctor who started the clinic, and toured the UT Community Care Clinic. “We didn’t know what to expect; we thought maybe there would just be a couple of doctors” Ben says. “But we walked in, and there are 30 white coats—students and doctors working side by side. We were blown away by the work they were doing.”
Because of the stellar reputation of the clinic and the strong model that already existed, CedarCreek invited clinic officials to tour their South Toledo multisite campus, and offered it to them for free.
“They were already doing great work, but our facility was going to be a significant upgrade to it,” Ben says. “The carpeted lobby, using some of the children’s classrooms—the whole feel of the campus seemed to serve their needs well.”
“In fact, some of the medical students couldn’t believe a church would be willing to give them use of the facility for free. It was so exciting for us to be able to partner with a great organization that was already serving our community.”
Opening Doors for Ministry
The partnership has been a win all-around. Along with free medical care, CedarCreek has added free hot meals for the community on Thursday nights. The Community Care Clinic is meeting medical needs and offering a dynamic entryway into CedarCreek:
- An entire youth football team came to the clinic for physicals. “Most of those kids don’t go to church, so think about the generational impact on them,” Ben says. “We’ve given them an experience with a local church, and some of them have come back to our weekend service with their families.”
- A woman in one of CedarCreek’s life groups told Ben with tears in her eyes about how the clinic has blessed her. “She said she never would have gotten some of her immediate needs taken care of, if not for the clinic,” he says. “She thought it was amazing that her local church could help meet those needs.”
- Even medical students and local doctors are being impacted. Med students who don’t have time to eat all day grab a home-cooked meal before serving in the clinic. One student left a note in the offering during a weekend service, thanking CedarCreek for living out its mission with the clinic. “He said fellow students feel too busy or disconnected from church to come to a weekend service,” Ben says. But after students experience the clinic, it’s an easy ask. “When they come in, they’re blown away this is a church,” Ben adds. “Now they can be at the clinic or be invited to a weekend service, and we believe God can show up at either place.”
Medical student volunteer performing blood glucose screening during triage, part of the standard of care at the Community Care Free Medical Clinic.
More Clinics Around the Corner
All of the success—at an investment of only about $10,000 for the church—has CedarCreek, under the leadership of its senior pastor Lee Powell, looking to replicate the model at another of its four multisite locations. The initial investment was only $1,000-2,000 and CedarCreek has since given the clinic a gift of $8,000 during a one-for-one weekend (where they give $1 away to a community non-profit for every person who attends). A downtown Toledo group of ministries is also studying the model, and considering it for their area.
Mostly what it will take to open another clinic is enough doctors to staff it—that, too, is rallying the troops at CedarCreek. “We have doctors in our church who never served in the clinic before—didn’t even know it existed,” Ben says. “Now they’re beginning to serve in their field at their church, and they love it.”
That echoes the goodwill the clinic is creating among CedarCreek volunteers, who help prepare or serve a meal on Thursday night, or assist with intake or other duties at the clinic.
“It’s just been one God opportunity, one ‘aha!’ moment after another,” Ben says. “Every Thursday night, our volunteers leave filled up and excited that they were able to make a tangible impact in the neighborhood and the city they love so much. It has blown way past our expectations.”