By the time you read this, we will have completed our journey to the cross and the celebration of the risen Christ on that glorious Easter morning. I hope your Easter was blessed as you worshiped with your family and friends.
Following up on my column in January, I am discussing the most frequent comments and questions I hear when presenting the pastor profile survey to church leadership and call committees. In January, I discussed getting youth involved. This quarter, as the title suggests, how do we minister to our surrounding community.
An interesting fact currently is that most parishioners now drive 10-60 minutes to church on a Sunday morning as opposed to walking to their neighborhood church. Churches were initially started to serve those near the facility. Since that is not the case now, the surrounding community of the church becomes the number one mission field for the church. Since this is the top ministry desire on the survey, the follow-up question is “What can we do to minister to our community?”
In looking into this, I am suggesting a few ideas to help you get started and to stimulate ideas and conversations in your church. They are:
1. Remember, Jesus primarily engaged people through everyday encounters. Get out into your neighborhood. Walk the streets, map the area, say hello to folks, identify who are your neighbors and how is the community changing. Record your findings. Include, what does the community need or what are its assets?
2. It is important to know that ministries that truly bless a community often arise out of one-on-one conversations. Look for places this can happen. Sit in a park, diner, coffee house, or Panera Bread. The places where people go to just hang out. Ask them, “What are your challenges, hopes, longings, and/or dreams?”
3. Be sure to invite your community to an event you might have going on at the church:
• Trunk or Treat
• Church picnic
• Vacation Bible School
• Block party(s)
• Women’s Christmas by Candlelight
• Christmas choir concert or a living nativity outside
4. Get the youth involved but don’t make them fund-raising events:
• Spaghetti dinners
• 3 on 3 basketball tourneys
5. Start some projects that would benefit your community such as:
• Teaching ESL (English as a Second Language)
• Deaf Ministry
• Comfort Dog
• School mentoring program
• Food pantry
• Parenting classes
• Sports camps
6. Partner with institutions such as:
• Nursing homes
• Commercial establishments (restaurants or sports facilities)
7. Have worship services outside (Easter, Palm Sunday, Christmas Eve) or select a venue folks might feel more comfortable (restaurant, park, coffee house). Realize that your community may be hesitant to walk in your doors until they know you better so open things up and hold some events off-campus.
8. The purpose is not necessarily to get them to walk in your doors but to make sure they know about Jesus and His saving grace. If they do walk in your doors, be sure you have a well-polished hospitality group. You may have only that one chance to make an impression. If that one visit doesn’t go well, the word will quickly spread through the community.
9. Be sure to advertise any activity or event. Put signs out on your property and rotate them with thoughts you want to share with your neighborhood. Attend neighborhood events or meetings (meet your councilman).
10. Finally, yet this is really the first thing, pray! Pray for your neighborhood, your community, your schools, your elected officials, etc. Pray without ceasing. God will work through you and your church.
Your community is an extension of your church. Meet people where they are. Be attuned to what God is already doing in your community. Strive for meaningful conversations – not superficial, maintain all appropriate boundaries and respect all with whom you engage.
Chances are your neighbors want to know what is going on at your church as well. Take the mystery out of it. Open your doors and walk out. Who knows, maybe they will walk in.
Blessings as you spread the Gospel,
By Marty Schardt
Congregation Support Specialist
Texas District Area B