3 Steps to Reach Your Community

The church seems to be in a perpetual decline for many mainline denominations. While some leading indicators show that the church is changing, I don’t buy into the notion that the church must decline. In fact, with God, all things are possible (Matthew 19:26). 

If your local church struggles to reach the community, let me encourage you to pause, pray, and participate where God is leading. By joining with the community, the church can reconnect with lost people and help the people inside the church to see and meet their needs through Christ-love. 

1. Pause to see where God’s ministry is needed.   

The church can be so busy being the church that the people get caught up in church business and not the church’s spiritual business. Let me say it another way: Programs have taken over productive opportunities to reach people outside the four walls of the church. Pastor Dan Betzer, a retired Assemblies of God pastor, said, “If you want anything from God, you got to be in the business God is in, and that is the redemption business.” 

Pause and reflect by asking how your local church serves others in the redemption business. How many have been saved, sanctified, and set out to serve the kingdom in the past year or even five years? If not many, pause and pattern yourself after God by seeking His will over the people’s will. The church is not alive to perpetuate inside thinking but an outward gospel that dreams to reach the community around them. As a pastor, I am dedicated to developing the spiritual health of the local church body, but it cannot come at the cost of losing the neighborhood around the church. 

When the church community takes a moment to pause and reflect on where God is leading, we the church can adapt to the needs of the community and mobilize themselves to embody Christ. It’s not just the responsibility of the pastor or church leaders; each and every one has a role to play in fulfilling God’s mission. Church members must challenge each other to see Christ in the hard and out-of-the-way places in the community and go there to be a blessing to the community. 

2. Pray for opportunities to serve. 

Prayer must become the central part of whatever the local church does. Two or three minutes of prayer time on a Sunday will not engage the church to obey his calling to reach the lost. Specific times of prayer (40 or 21 days of prayer and fasting, weekly prayer meetings, or even once-a-month prayer days) are better than doing nothing. By engaging God in prayer, the people will build a solid spiritual foundation that will undergird them through times of trouble and strengthen their faith. Prayer is not one and done, but a continual intentional focus that centers a person not on the worldly needs around them but the needs of God. Through reliance on God through prayer and scriptural reading, the church and its leaders will see where God calls them to serve. 

Prayer will help position the church for the future. For many struggling churches, prayer time is an afterthought to their dilemma. Instead of seeing prayer as a last resort, the church needs to move prayer as the first resort of everything they do. Prayer can be the catalyst to renewal and reawaken the outlook to reach the community. Find time to pray. As a church, dedicate specific times to pray throughout the church year. As a pastor or church leader, lead by example and seek God daily or hourly, spending times of dedicated prayer for the spiritual renewal of self and the local church. If the church is going to connect with the community, then it must be prayed up and ready to go through the spiritual warfare battles that will come with engaging the playground of the world with the gospel.

3. Participate where God leads. 

While the church has been pushed to its brink in a post-Christian world, there is still hope where many seem hopeless. In each community, there are pockets of Jesus to be seen if the church is willing to embrace a community-centric model of serving. The model is built around people and existing programs where the church can come up alongside and serve. Think about it this way: is there a school that needs reading buddies, a senior center that needs volunteers, or a clothing closet that needs donations? What may seem like small steps are giant steps in establishing a new service paradigm between the church and the community. God can use the church to connect in quintessential ways if it remains open for service opportunities. One of many ways to help the church connect with the community is by thinking and then participating where God is already in the community.

Here is an idea: Put a map on a bulletin board and put a red push pin to show where the church is located within the map. Draw a one-mile circle around the church. That is the church’s area of intentional focus. Find schools and non-profit organizations within this intention zone and mark them with yellow push pens. Begin to strategize through conversations with these potential partners how the church can help. When the church finds a willing partner, turn their push pin from yellow to green. Then go and serve. The idea is not to spread the church too thin but to have it think through potential partnerships, find ways to embrace them, and serve with Christ-love and effectiveness. 

While these are not all the steps to reach the community, it is a starting point as you embrace a new view to see the community and church connected. 

Do not allow the discouragement of lack of attendance or community engagement to keep the local church trapped in a cycle of mental decline, but be hopeful that God is still moving in and out of the church. Through forward dreaming, the church will be able to connect with the community, and Christ will be honored for it.

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Desmond Barrett
Desmond Barrett
Desmond Barrett is the lead pastor at Winter Haven First Church of the Nazarene in Winter Haven, Florida. He is the author of several books, most recently, Helping the Small Church Win Guests: Preparing To Increase Attendance (Wipf & Stock Publications) and has done extensive research in the area of church revitalization and serves as church revitalizer, consultant, coach, podcast host and mentor to revitalizing pastors and churches.