The church has to connect with the neighborhood around them in new and creative ways.
Over the decades, the way the church was framed changed. In decades past, all the church had to do was open its doors, and the community would come. The people were preconditioned that twice on Sunday and once on Wednesday night, it was church time. Fast-forward two decades into a new century, and that spiritual calling seems backward to many in today’s society.
There has been a transformational culture shift. The church is no longer the social and community welfare hub it once was. The church can no longer be seen as come and visit but go and serve. With a societal shift away from traditional worship attendance, the church has to lean into this new era of the transformational promise they find themselves in to connect with the neighborhood around them in new and creative ways.
For decades, the neighborhood church declined because she was unwilling or unable to reach the neighborhood around the church property, partly because of the decline in the community and partly because the people had decided to hunker down and try to ride the slide out. These once-grand buildings sat like silos waiting for the people to return.
That time has come. A new generation of Christ-followers is moving back to the city where they can work, play, and live all in one place. What an opportunity for the established church to reconnect with those they once lost.
As the church transitions into a new season of life, she has a unique opportunity to develop community partnerships with organizations that impact the community in ways that the church could only dream of. There is a tendency in the established church to retread programs from what worked in the past. I have found that many nonprofit organizations need and want volunteers who are willing to donate their time, talents, and treasures to help the worthy cause. Instead of reinventing the wheel, the church should develop ties with community partners to support the nonprofit and strengthen the local church.
There is a propensity for a declining church to do one-and-done events and believe that it will be the one thing that brings people back to church. When it does not happen, and the disappointment sets in, the church declares, “The community does not care about us, so why should we care about them?” Rather than seeing these events as opportunities, the church must know these community engagements are where discipleship can take place by sharing the gospel in ways not typically done weekly. When this happens, these community outreaches take on a new perceptive and life of their own. The church begins to look more like Jesus than a social club—creating a safe space where the church and neighborhood connect, counsel, and encourage each other while the church is serving the community through biblically based living. Over time this engagement may warm some hearts, and they will want to come to be a part of the neighborhood church that serves the community.
Transformational community connections are about developing a place where the community and church can connect outside the norms of a traditional church service. I have seen this happen through clothing closets, feeding programs, afterschool enrichment, adult education classes, and a host of other formats.
Look around your neighborhood. Where are the poor, the broken, and hurting? That is where the church is needed the most. Go where the people are comfortable and where the church will be uncomfortable and serve. By serving in the margins, the challenging places become God’s place where you can share about Christ. It may not feel natural at first, but when the neighborhood sees the church cares, they will care about the church. It is then that the hearts of the lost, broken, and addicted will be open to hearing the heart-holiness message that the church has to share.
The decline in the local church has not happened overnight and will not correct itself in that timeframe. Instead, it will take a sustained effort on the church’s part to keep serving the community even when the fruit is unseen. God is calling the established church to reconnect and stay connected with the community in which she lives. Sustained effort over a prolonged time will bring fruit if the church is willing not to give up so easily. Thomas Edison failed over 1,000 times before he got the correct bulb to create the first light. Since then, the light bulb has been redesigned and reimaged in ways that even Edison would be surprised at, but he would still recognize the concept of the effort. Sustaining the community connection may adapt and change to the needs of the program’s season, but the church should still recognize the concept of serving others like Christ.
The community around the church needs your church. It requires a church focused not only on Jesus but also as the hands and feet of Jesus in the neighborhood. Pick up the mantle and become the neighborhood church for the community.