The answer to the above question is,
“No, that’s not enough anymore!”
For the next 9 weeks, we will be exploring 50 ways to connect our church with our community. These posts are inspired by the work of Robert Crossman, Ann A. Michel, Kim Mitchel, and Lovett H. Weems, Jr., as found in the article 50 Ways to Take Church to the Community from the Lewis Centre for Christian Leadership. This article will help me anchor some thoughts I have had about what I’ve observed during my short time here as the Minister of Spiritual Care. My appointment comes to an end on June 30, but before I go it is my intention to share some ideas with you through these posts. I pray that you are inspired to nurture existing practices, foster budding ideas, and birth brand new concepts to help move your congregation towards its vision for the future.
I have been listening and learning a lot about you all during these last 5 months! One thing I know for sure is that there is a strong desire to grow as a community of faith. Although the desire is there, there exists some hesitation and uncertainty about how to get where you want to go. Let me tell you this: This work must include moving beyond the walls of the church building and engaging the wider community. As the Lewis Centre article suggests, “Churches can no longer open their doors and expect that people will come in. Effective congregations go into the world to encounter those in need of the gospel.” Those are scary words for us United Church folks who often cringe at the idea of evangelism! We don’t want to be pushy… but, in our effort to be polite about our faith we have lost our way. God calls us to be bold in sharing the good news of our faith… We are commanded to love God and love our neighbours – it’s really that simple – but simply doesn’t mean easy!
Over the next 9 weeks we will explore these 50 ways that provide tips on reaching beyond our walls. I’ll expand each of the suggestions with questions and comments to help you get started in thinking about these ideas. The sub-headings for the 50 ways listed in this article are:
- Embrace an expansive concept of community
- Prepare spiritually
- Get to know the community surrounding your church
- Listen and learn
- Build authentic relationships
- Turn your existing ministries outward
- Reach out through community events
- Extend your congregation’s spiritual presence beyond church walls
- Connect spiritual outreach to community service
Let’s take a look at the first step of the 50 ways. It is titled “Embrace an expansive concept of community” and here are the tips it suggests:
(1) “Learn to regard your community as an extension of your congregation. A church’s mission field goes beyond its membership to include all the people God calls it to serve. You are connected to individuals who never set foot in your building.”
How are we connected to those people who never set foot in our building? Do we believe we ought to be? Who are our neighbours? Remembering that the church is called to serve more than just its members, who are the people that God calls us to serve? Make a list – identify them… when you start writing them out you may be surprised how expansive your community really is!
(2) “Know that what’s happening within the church — preaching, worship, music, Bible study — is no longer enough to attract people in an age when church attendance is no longer a cultural expectation.”
This is a really important thing that most of us recognize in our thinking, but haven’t seemed to connect with the despair in our hearts. Church attendance has been declining since the heydays of the 1960s because cultural expectation shifted. Here we are almost 60 years later and we are still surprised that numbers continue to wane. Or maybe we are not really surprised anymore, but actually defeated by this reality. We are not a defeated people and need to stop acting like it. If we really believe that nothing is impossible with God, then isn’t it time to let God help us do a new thing for a new age… yeah, it’s definitely time!
(3) “Don’t sit in your church building waiting for people to come. Be prepared to meet people where they are.”
So, where are they? Meeting people where they are can literally mean that – get out – go meet people where they are – at the park, in the pub, at the coffee shop. Talk to the people already in your life about your beliefs. Don’t give up on your family and friends! count your family and friends short. They have beliefs about the way things are even if they don’t go to church.
We are a people afraid of confrontation and worry about offending anyone when we share our beliefs. Let me tell you that when I became brave in my faith I have never offended anyone when I had a conversation like this with them. I’ll tell you why I think that is. It is a very vulnerable act to share such an intimate part of myself with someone and when I am able to do this without expectation that they will approve of me or buy into my belief, I am opening a door for them to share with me.
Meeting people where they are also means going on a spiritual journey together – side by side. Not trying to drag someone along, or convince someone to follow you. It means being a friend. Listening and sharing stories. Finding grounds of mutual respect and understanding. The more I learn about what others believe, the more I am affirmed in my own faith. Be open to let the stories of others teach you something about yourself and what you believe and, in turn, you are modelling that openness for others.
That’s enough for this week! See you next week as we think about how we can Prepare Spiritually for this adventure of learning to Practice What We Preach!
In the Peace and Love of Christ,
Minister of Spiritual Care