“We need to engage our community.” We know we are supposed to “meet them where they are.” As pastors or church leaders, we want our churches to be vital pieces of our communities. If someone asked us, “What kind of hole would there be in your community if your church disappeared tomorrow?” We want to say the gap would be significant. These are good and even biblical aspirations.
Jesus’ life demands we engage the need we see around us, not just the spiritual, but the practical as well. His healing of the sick and entering into the life of the broken went hand in hand with His proclamation of the Gospel. Several months ago, I had the privilege of baptizing a man who gave testimony of how people had entered into the brokenness of his life and led him to Christ. In any effort to engage our community, this is what we are looking for: lives changed by Christ.
Much of what we do, we have learned from someone else and adapted. Also, we are constantly searching for ways to love Ponca City. Therefore, we try to keep close tabs on a couple of basics.
Knowing our church. Who makes up our church? What existing community connection points do we have that could be developed into ministry relationships?
Knowing our community. Go talk to the schools, the mayor, the police chief. Ask your people. Find out where your community is hurting. Find the gaps.
With this knowledge, we can develop ministries that make sense for both sides. If your church desires to do something that the community does not need, you want to know up front. Once you get a handle on the need and what your church can offer, you are ready to start putting ministry plans in place. However, before jumping to action, let me encourage you to ask some questions:
- Is anyone already doing this? Are they a viable partner?
Maybe your town only needs one well-stocked, well-run food pantry. Could you be a financial partner to someone with a better system? (We financially partner with a local Hope Pregnancy Center.) Are there community-run partnerships where you could bring a Christ-like presence? (We are part of a Chamber of Commerce program that partners us with a local elementary school. We tutor, provide school supplies and support teachers.) If other Gospel-focused, Bible-preaching churches in your area are engaged in a work, then work together for the Kingdom.
- Could this be a gateway to more ministry opportunities?
Not every ministry produces revival. That does not mean they are not worth your time and energy. There are some things you may choose to do (letting the community use your buildings) just to be a good neighbor. But that small act could yield more opportunity down the road—opportunity that you could never have dreamed would be available to your church.
- How can we be a distinctively Gospel people in this ministry?
Life change by the power of Christ is our ultimate aim. So in your ministry plan, spell out exactly how you are going to be distinctively Gospel people. If you can’t do that, or an ongoing ministry is not doing this, then maybe it needs to end or never get started. We work with the City in a massive spring cleaning effort. The City helps us identify homes that need help. We have teams that go work, but we couple that with teams that share the Gospel. Letting people see and hear the Gospel at work in the same moment.
One of our volunteer-led ministries has stepped up this year. Prior to the pandemic, this group conducted three worship services every Sunday at local long-term care facilities. A few people had a burden to love an under-served part of our community, found people with a common passion and ran with it. Even through the COVID-era they have continued to minister by staying in contact and providing weekly devotional activity sheets.
The aim is clear: simple acts of love and service making an eternal difference through the power of the Gospel. How will your church engage brokenness, advance the Gospel and see lives changed?