If you were to take a moment to conduct an audit of your church to determine how well members are doing interacting with the community, what grade would you give your church?
Perhaps the question should be asked another way: Do you believe it is important for your church to interact with the community? If so, how? If not, why not?
These are some of the questions that church leaders, board members, and the church body at large should ask themselves as they consider their vision and mission for reaching people in their community.
Community engagement is a must in order for churches to thrive, stay healthy, and remain relevant. No longer should churches operate from a “business as usual” mentality, expecting people to come to them, although some people will. It is important that they be known as more than an “event-driven” church, hosting event after event and expecting people to “come to see them.” Rather, it’s preferable to be known as a “ministry-driven” church that is reaching out, showing interest, exhibiting compassion, and meeting needs.
In His life on earth, Jesus left the best example for the body of believers to follow. “Jesus saw in every soul one to whom must be given the call to His kingdom. He reached the hearts of the people by going among them as one who desired their good. He sought them in the public streets, in private houses, on the boats, in the synagogue, by the shores of the lake, and at the marriage feast. He met them at their daily vocations, and manifested an interest in their secular affairs. He carried His instruction into the household, bringing families in their own homes under the influence of His divine presence. His strong personal sympathy helped to win hearts”—The Desire of Ages, p. 151.
If churches are fulfilling The Great Commission, given with authority by Jesus, which instructs them to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19, 20), then, “Wherever we are, we should watch for opportunities of speaking to others of the Saviour. If we follow Christ’s example in doing good, hearts will open to us as they did to Him. Not abruptly, but with tact born of divine love, we can tell them of Him who is the ‘chiefest among ten thousand,’ and the One ‘altogether lovely.’ This is the very highest work in which we can employ the talent of speech. It was given to us that we might present Christ as the sin-pardoning Saviour”—Christ’s Object Lessons, pp. 338, 339.
The methods and ways of how churches can become involved in their community is exhaustive. What is important is to be sure that the church’s involvement in the community is not a “one-time” thing. Ongoing activity with neighbors can result in many people coming to know Jesus. Listed below are just a few examples of how members can share themselves and the Word of God with those around them.
• Get to know the names of your neighbors. How many of the people who live around your home or your church do you know by name? In order to reach people, it is important to know their names.
• Pray for your neighbors. Do this regularly and ask God to create the opportunity for you to speak and interact with them.
• Invite their children to participate in activities at your church. Vacation Bible School is one of many activities that allows children to participate. It opens the door for their parents to visit the church to see what their children have been doing and where they have been spending their time.
• Perform random acts of kindness toward your neighbors. There are so many ways this can be accomplished. Church members can offer to help carry groceries, cut their grass, rake leaves, or shovel snow, just to name a few. Members can also try to find out if their neighbors have any special needs with which they can assist.
• Volunteer in community activities. Volunteers are always needed and can provide services in a range of areas to those in need.
• Start a walking or running group. This is another way to build relationships while at the same time practicing a healthier lifestyle.
• Offer them a small gift at Christmastime. Consider teaming up with organizations that are working to provide gifts for those in need and help make a positive impact on someone’s life.
“There are many who need the ministration of loving Christian hearts. Many have gone down to ruin who might have been saved, if their neighbors, common men and women, had put forth personal effort for them. Many are waiting to be personally addressed. In the very family, the neighborhood, the town where we live, there is work for us to do as missionaries for Christ. If we are Christians, this work will be our delight. No sooner is one converted than there is born within him a desire to make known to others what a precious friend he has found in Jesus. The saving and sanctifying truth cannot be shut up in his heart”—The Desire of Ages, p. 141.
A relevant church is a church that knows its community—members and neighbors—and is engaged in making a difference in people’s lives. What grade did you give your church for community engagement? Is there room for improvement?
Start by implementing some of the ideas provided in this article, or come up with some of your own. Above all, be proactive! Get to know those around you and come up with creative ways to be relevant to your community. “Let your light shine” by drawing others to your church through your personal engagement with them, “that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven”—Matthew 5:16.