5 Ways For Your Church To Meet Your Community’s Needs
By: Vanderbloemen July 16, 2015
The Church is, by definition, counter-cultural, but that doesn’t mean that our churches should be ivory towers cloistered away and out of touch with the needs of the community.
In order to reach the lost and broken with the Gospel, each church needs to be aware and reflective of the community’s assets and needs around them.
Here are five ways for your church to gain awareness of and reflect your immediate community in order to better meet its needs.
1. Take a talk and walk.
Map out a radius around your church based on how concentrated the population is in your area (for urban churches, just take on the 2-3 block radius of your church location, for more suburban or rural churches, you may want to take a 2-3 mile walk/drive.) Walk around that area with some of your staff leaders and key volunteers. Meet the people hanging out at the bus stop, the Starbucks, the local eatery, the daycares, etc. Ask these people about their lives and take notes. Get to know them and the challenges they face. Try to take on the posture of a missionary in a completely foreign place. By starting without assumptions, you’ll be better prepared to hear some surprising revelations.
Ask open-ended questions that help you answer the question: How does the surrounding community affect their lives (positively or negatively)? What is their involvement in any spiritual community? What’s the familiarity and impression people have of a) religion in general, b) Christianity, and c) your particular denomination/tradition? Ask about the history of the community; when did the community get its start and under what circumstances? What historical or cultural events and landmarks are important to the community? How has the area evolved? The answers to these varied questions will be powerful indicators to you of how your church fits into the community and the unique challenges you will face reaching the people in it. You’ll also have better insights into how to reach people and develop authentic relationships with those in the surrounding community.
2. Identify community assets.
As you walk, take note of medical facilities, homeless shelters, daycares, schools, libraries, different types of housing (high rise apartments, single family homes, public housing, mobile homes, etc.), religious and civic organizations, public transit, gas stations, grocery stores, shopping malls, green space, and recreation facilities, etc. Next, identify these assets on your map. Look first for assets, second for patterns, third for needs.
Some patterns might be that your community is a highly intellectual community filled with research facilities, universities, and libraries. Perhaps the community predominantly uses public transit and commutes, so dry cleaning establishments, restaurants, hotels, and offices are predominant and few people shop or live in the area. Maybe your area has lots of outdoor recreation, wildlife, and parks. Write all these patterns down and begin to draw some conclusions on what this community is centered around and its values. Only then can you assess what they might need physically, relationally, and spiritually based on what is already present and available to them.
3. Assess the community needs and begin developing your strategy.
Perhaps there are no grocery stores in your church’s area, only corner stores. Maybe you could offer a farmer’s market in your parking lot to bring quality, nutritional food to the local residents. Are there many daycares, but mainly overcrowded or under-funded preschools? Consider starting a church school for all those tots about to age out of daycare. It may be as simple as offering a shuttle ministry to allow more people to attend worship services and church events if there are many people without adequate transportation in the area.
What cultures, ethnicities, and languages are represented around you? Is there anyone offering worship services to people within those groups? Try to see past the obvious and easily visible demographics of the neighborhood. There may be many elderly people living in an assisted living or retirement community that you’ve never noticed. They might love to be a part of your church family if the opportunity is made available. Are there many people with different abilities in your community (those with cognitive disabilities, issues with mobility, sight or hearing impairment, etc.)? Consider making your church highly wheelchair accessible, providing sign language interpreters, and tailoring your worship service production to the needs of all those in your community.
4. Filter and prioritize.
After your group shares their thoughts on the community's patterns or needs and you all do some “blue-sky thinking,” pray and begin to prioritize those assets that your church wants to offer based on what you feel your community needs most. Some initiatives will be simpler than others to start, and you may find that you can easily implement two or three projects at once. Outreach projects are best endeavored one at a time however - usually one a quarter. Try to stagger launch dates so that the community isn’t confused by an onslaught of announcements and invites that pull their focus in different directions.
5. Begin setting or redefining your church culture.
This is potentially the hardest thing to do in any established organization, but it is possible! As you assess the community and begin implementing your findings, know that the DNA of your church will naturally change. You will need to constantly reassess how new projects are being received and what your reputation is in the community. It is worth it to make small adjustments strategically, rather than cutting whole initiatives and programs at once when they don’t go as expected. Just like in your initial walk and talk, you need to have your “ear to the streets” to be gauging why a service your church offers isn’t working well. Perhaps it just needs to be moved to a different time or people need childcare in order to attend. You’ll never know if you don’t ask (and you can’t ask the choir; the people that are involved don’t know why others won’t come any more than you do). Make small adjustments, keep reassessing, and watch things evolve over time. The less of a gap there is between community needs and the church’s offerings, the more people that will be attracted to and enriched by your spiritual leadership.
If your church truly desires to reach the lost, grow, and send disciples, then you need a clearly defined mission, vision, values, and strategy based on the community you serve. You cannot lead those to a life in Christ without knowing their unique needs and gifts. The Shepherd knows His sheep by name, do you?