HILLSIDE, NJ — A congregation is shining light on Hillside’s struggling businesses by organizing monthly “love mobs,” in which more than 200 members of The First Baptist Church of Hillside are investing — financially and spiritually — in the welfare of local stores.
Led by Rev. Christopher Michael Jones, the church’s head pastor, Hillside residents rallied at Lillian’s Soul Food Restaurant on Sunday, Jan. 16, in the first incarnation of the love mobs. They’re like cash mobs, says Jones, where people arrive, en masse, at a local business and spend money to show their support.
“We find that money to spend on everything else. Why not find it, to spend it on a good cause?” said Jones. “I am under the impression that people in every local community really want to know if you care about them. They don’t just want to hear you tell them that you care, they want to see you show them that you care, authentically. This is showing.”
There’s also a distinct, spiritual element to love mobs, says Jones. They’re about offering “a loving and compassionate presence” at businesses and owners who are down on their luck, he said, as well as the capital goal of spending a combined $5,000 per visit.
“Number one, it’s to bolster the local economy, and number two to send a message to the community: That we care about all of the residents and the citizens,” said Jones. “This is pretty close to our Christian teachings. The Christian scripture teaches us that you should love your neighbor like you love yourself. So our congregation thought it was a wonderful idea to show up en masse, at various businesses in Hillside and even throughout Union County.”
The idea was generated when congregation members met, brainstormed ways to bolster the township, and decided on meeting at local stores after church. But whether it was love mobs or an entirely different strategy, something needed to happen, says Jones, with businesses in Hillside limping the way they are.
“I’m just not sure that the township has come up with a progressive enough solution to really stimulate the economy,” said Jones. “They’re trying. The mayor of the township has great ideas, there are new councilpersons that have great ideas. But usually we don’t see churches play a part in bolstering the local economy, unless it benefits the church.”
Only the businesses are benefitting from love mobs, according to Jones, who hopes they’ll become a trend in churches, communities and other groups in the area, to the benefit of stores around the county.
In a world “divided by so much hate, so much grieving and so much selfishness,” says Jones, love mobs can serve as a “countercultural movement” to help improve the qualify of life in Hillside and elsewhere.
“Hopefully this will catch on, and other churches or other businesses will do the same in their own local economies,” said Jones. “We just think this is the right thing to do.”
Spiritually and financially, then, Jones and his congregation want local businesses to know that The First Baptist Church of Hillside is behind them.
“What I’ve been sharing with our congregation is that oftentimes, churches take the approach that it’s better to build up the church, and then invite the community to these palatial estates,” said Jones. “Whereas I’m under the impression that it’s far better to help your partners in the community, to build up their businesses and their dreams first, and out of those authentic relationships people will partner with you to fulfill your own dreams, the dreams of the congregation.”