If your church closed tomorrow, would anyone in the community notice? Would they feel sad or disappointed? Becoming better known in your community isn’t rocket science. And it’s not all about billboard campaigns or massive donations either. People remember and are drawn toward things that make an impact on them.
Here are a just a few ideas for becoming a church that your community knows and appreciates:
Support your public schools.
If you’re struggling to define who your community is, a local public school is a great place to find out. Do you put energy behind building relationships with your schools? You could help fund a new playground in a rough neighborhood. Provide a thank-you lunch for teachers once a month. Connect with guidance counselors to find out how they could use volunteers to help students who are struggling. Or join forces with parents to support the local sports teams.
A quick but poignant story: A few years back, eighth-graders at a South Carolina middle school were extremely shaken when one of their classmates was murdered. NewSpring Church had been building a relationship with the school for years and regularly sent volunteers to eat lunch with students. When this crisis hit, the church’s volunteers were actually called on to be there for students who needed to talk, as the counselors had more students than they could take care of. It was an incredible example of the church caring for its community.
Participate in community revitalization efforts.
West Ridge Community Church used to participate in an event called Community Makeover with Engage Atlanta, a group of churches and nonprofits committed to working together to make a deep impact in the Metro Atlanta area. Churches across the city closed their doors on a Sunday morning to help complete service projects in areas of need.
Lots of cities have similar events. If yours doesn’t, consider starting something.
Show you care about the things your community cares about.
Every community has its own unique interests and niches. Yours may be outdoor life, technology innovation, the arts or education. It pays to recognize the things that make the people in your city tick. It doesn’t mean you adapt everything you’re doing. But you can at least be conscious of and engaged in the conversations that are happening, and when it fits, show your community you value the things it values. For instance, Cowboy Junction Church in Hobbs, N.M., started a Monday night service since many of the families in its community participate in rodeos on the weekends.
Stop pushing community inside the church at the expense of the community outside the church.
What would happen if we put less attention on organizing relationships and more attention on giving people something to organize around? For example, what if we helped church members connect with each other by creating opportunities for them to serve in the community? We just might do a better job of helping them build strong friendships without gobbling up so much of their time that they rarely take the light out into the world.
Don’t shun nonprofits that are making a difference.
Is there a mentor program in your city for at-risk youth, perhaps through Big Brothers, Big Sisters or the Boys and Girls Club? What about a nonprofit helping single mothers or repairing homes for the disabled? Too often churches won’t engage in their community at all unless they can own the program. The problem with that is we create redundant efforts and often fail to follow through. Or even worse, we never venture beyond what we already know to reach those with the greatest need.
Keep promotions focused on felt needs.
Focus your messaging on content, not just your church. Can you promote a conversation-rich message series or a community movement? The goofy displays on most church signs indicate how out-of-touch with the community churches can be: No one visits your church because you’re preaching on the apostle Paul’s first missionary journey this week. They just might come because you are going to talk about how to fix a marriage that feels beyond repair.
These efforts will fail if you view them as marketing tactics to make your church known in the community. This engagement needs to reflect the church’s primary mission and strategy. You need to begin with getting to know your community. Who are you trying to reach with the gospel? What are their pressing needs? How could you intentionally meet people where they’re living (spiritually, relationally, physically, emotionally, etc.) and offer them hope, purpose and forgiveness in Jesus Christ?
Many times that will mean we need to begin by addressing needs that aren’t necessarily spiritual in order to earn the opportunity to help someone take their next step toward Christ. Those needs will also look different from community to community. Poverty, as an example, isn’t every community’s issue, but every community has broken people who need help discovering their next steps. The woman at the well was looking for water but found Jesus. What is the “water” that people need in your community?
Tony Morgan is the founder and chief strategic officer of The Unstuck Group, which offers solutions to help churches get unstuck.