Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Reaching your community

While leading a seminar for pastors on how to transform their small church from maintenance-minded to missional I challenged them to identify some needs in their communities that their churches could meet. One pastor raised his hand and asked, "How do we find out what those needs are?" My response was a little snarky when I replied, "You might go out into the community and ask people what they need." He had not thought of that!

Too often churches decide they are going to offer some program or ministry and then wonder why the response was so poor. Often, the response is poor because few people were interested in what we were doing. We sit in our church buildings and try to guess what the unchurched community around us wants and needs without ever asking them. That is a mistake. We need to ask.

We may find that what they need and/or want has little to do with faith issues. This will be a problem for some churches that are reluctant to introduce secular events in the church, but it is one that they need to overcome if they are serious about wanting to reach out to their communities.

Let's say that your church talks with people in the community and finds out that many of them are struggling with debt and other financial issues. They want to know how to better manage their money. It is doubtful that your denomination's latest stewardship training program is what they are seeking, and they will probably stop coming after about the second week if that is what you offer.

Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University has been taught in hundreds of churches. Based upon sound biblical principles, it offers advice on how to live on less than you make, how to get out of debt, and how to invest and save for the future and retirement. What a way to make an impact on the people in your community and in your church. I consider being financially responsible as part of Christian discipleship, so this could be a way to both reach people in the community and disciple your current membership as well.

A few years ago I attended a satellite conference on leadership led by some of the best known leaders in America. It was held in a local church. The cost was very small, and I didn't have to go out of town. The church invited business, government, and church leaders to the conference. The speakers were from both secular and religious backgrounds. There was a nice turn-out for this conference, and the church had the opportunity to make connections with people who are not involved in a church.

You may feel your church is too small to offer something like this, but there would be nothing wrong with several churches going together to make this available. Actually, it is my understanding that it is not that expensive or difficult to get a satellite hook-up and would probably be affordable for most churches. But, if your church is a member of an association of churches perhaps the association could make this part of their outreach into the community.

One large church hosts weekly small groups in their facility. These groups are based upon common interests. For instance, there might be one group that focuses on bass fishing, another group is interested in RC planes, while a third group may be interested in quilting. I've been told this church has as many as 200 such groups meeting in their church building each week.

I don't know how much of their meeting is spent addressing spiritual issues. Probably very little. However, these groups bring people into the church building who would likely not go there otherwise. They build relationships with people from the church who are also in these groups, and if they do come to a worship service they now know people in that service. It has proven to be a very effective outreach ministry for this church.

For more ideas on how to transform a maintenance-minded church into one that is more missional, I encourage you to read my book Intentional Ministry in a Not-So-Mega Church: Becoming a Missional Community.

No comments: