How a small New Jersey church connects its people with opportunities to serve
The Church: Community Church in Harrington Park, Harrington Park, N.J.
The Challenge: Finding the most efficient use of time and treasure to make the most impact in service and outreach
One Key Idea: If you make the causes known, people will generally support them. But they need to be more than monetary—if you ask for a balance of time, talent and treasure, people will give.
Most churches have an outreach budget—and Community Church in Harrington Park, N.J., is no different. But what is unusual is the congregation’s emphasis on time as much as treasure. Many of its ministries are free or low-cost, and they often piggyback on existing community efforts.
It’s a functional, practical strategy for the church’s upper middle class members, said Mary Ann Schran, Community Church’s outreach committee co-chair.
“When we don’t require a long-term commitment, people say, ‘I can fit this in and do this’—they don’t perceive it costing them so much in terms of time,” she says. “And as far as getting behind a program that’s already in existence, that just means we aren’t recreating the wheel and instead contributing to something already successful before and after we are part of it.”
Although Community Church averages a modest 60 to 90 attendees on Sundays, it has developed strong relationships with several regional non-profits such as Pedals for Progress, which acquires used bikes and distributes them to children in developing countries. The church has sponsored several bike collections days for Pedals, including a May event that resulted in 66 bikes brought to the church in a combination effort by members and local residents. Even the local police department participated by dropping off unclaimed impounded cycles.
“We have a commitment to social justice and want to do something to improve the lot of people,” Schran said. “And what is the cost to us for this? Nothing, just volunteer labor and time.”
The church also works with Friend to Friend, a ministry to adults with developmental issues, as well as Habitat for Humanity, Samaritan’s Purse and Compassion International. But it’s their involvement with Midnight Run—a consortium of churches that aid the homeless in New York City—that has had the largest impact on this mostly white, suburban congregation who gather there to distribute supplies in the streets.
“It’s ministering by deed not so much by word. And that’s very moving, especially for the teenagers because we come from such a position of affluence. It’s eye opening,” she said.
Community Church was founded in 1898 and is part of the Reformed Church in America, a denomination that requires its member churches to earmark 10 percent of their budgets to outreach. At Community Church that amounts to about $32,000 but some of that is provided to Pastor George Kaden as unrestricted funds for immediate needs.
In addition to being mindful of parishioners’ time and treasure, Schran said she looks for ways to use all ages and skills represented in the congregation. Whereas a working parent might not have time to cook meals, a retired person might be happy to do so.
“We try to keep opportunities in front of the congregation for what they can do for limited time, money or commitment but help them realize the issues and problems out there. It’s better to do a fewer number of things well and not strain your volunteers too much,” she said.
And at Community Church, it’s not about trying to be unique or cutting edge, but fulfilling their mission for global impact. There’s no need to recreate the wheel, Schran emphasized.
“If something is working, why try something new?” she asked. “I don’t mean good ideas don’t come from within, but for example, what if we collected bikes and didn’t know what to do with them? Pedals for Progress does, and we know that’s how we can do the most good.”
Weekend Attendance: 60-90
This article originally appeared in the September/October 2013 issue of Outreach magazine.