One of the greatest challenges for the church in the 21st Century is its lack of connection to its community. Far too many churches today have become drive-in, spiritual social clubs and not the agents of community vitality and life transformation they used to be. As a result, communities are suffering, churches are dying, and far too many people are searching for hope in all the wrong places.
We have a fabulous opportunity to interact, engage, build relationships, and make disciples with the people living and working in the communities surrounding us. We must view the community as our Congregation — seeing Ms Smith, the local corner store owner, as a cherished member, whether she belongs to our Church or not. And viewing Mr. Jones, the principal, and his primary school as a vital campus within our community.
I believe we are at a moment when if we return to our biblical roots of community engagement and covenantal relationships, we will reclaim the church’s rightful place as the centre for life and community transformation.
Learning people’s needs and identities
It isn’t that Congregations don’t know they are supposed to be outwardly focused. There is conversation in many Churches about reaching out to the community. In fact, most Congregations have some type of outreach ministry. There are many Congregations bustling with food pantries, soup kitchens, op-shops, and other great services that help people. The problem is that if we ask the people engaged in these serving ministries the names of those they are serving, what’s going on in their lives, and what is the deeper need in order for them to reach God’s dream for their lives and their community — “I don’t know” is often the answer
We are often doing ministry for people, but not with people. Many of us are doing ‘caring’ ministry, but are we engaged in ‘transformational’ ministry?
Jesus always knew the identity of those he touched. Even if he didn’t know everyone by name, he knew the root cause of their human condition; he was always ready to change someone’s life for the better, and he was positioned to help them see the power of being in a deep, abiding relationship with Him.
Forging authentic relationships
The challenge for most people is building authentic relationships that are mutually beneficial; relationships that build community vitality. As we become more dependent on social media, it seems as if we need to regain the art of having deep conversations that build authentic relationships.
Embracing and loving our communities
You’ve got to get to know your community and let your community get to know you. You must constantly inspect your community and get to know it like the back of your hand. This does not have to be a complex process. It can be done simply. Get engaged!
If our Church is going to engage effectively with the community around it, we must spend time seeing, hearing, feeling, touching, embracing, and loving our mission field. We must behave as if the community is our Congregation.
The streets are our sanctuary. The back alleys are our altars of blessing. Farmlands are our fields of opportunity. New housing developments become our narthex through which new life is ushered. And the shopping centres of suburbia become creative places for leading people to salvation.
As John Wesley suggested, the world is our parish.
Rev. Dr Andrew Williams, General Secretary