Last week, the Barna Group released a new report revealing that 75% of adults believe that churches have a positive effect on their local communities. This sounds like good news, right? So why is it that church membership is dwindling? It seems that people would want to take part in this positive influence of the community around them.
Here’s the thing … the next question asked was:
Many churches and faith leaders want to contribute positively to the common good of their community. What does your community need, if anything, that you feel churches could provide?
Many adults had no idea how churches could contribute – even though they had previously said the presence of a church was a positive addition to the community. Here were the other results:
- Addressing poverty 29%
- Teaching the Bible and giving spiritual direction 12%
- Serving youth, families, & the elderly 13%
- Cultivating biblical values 14%
- Assist those in recovery 10%
- Assist with financial or career education 7%
- Be inclusive and accepting 3%
- Be engaged politically 1%
What this report really reveals is that although people are not hostile toward churches, they really don’t see how the local church plays an active role in its community. This is particularly true when churches are located in an area with very little poverty.
But the gospel message is about transformation … that in Christ we are a new creation, full of hope and joy. We live full and abundant lives because of a greater purpose. So if the gospel message is about transforming lives, then shouldn’t our churches be transforming their local communities?
It seems there are a couple of things church leaders can learn from this report. Just what can we do to make sure our churches have a positive impact on their local communities?
Have a public face.
Show up at community events. All too often our church leaders do most of their work inside the church building with church members. They don’t see the need to attend the local parade, community fair, chamber of commerce, town meetings. Because the church has largely been absent from these community events, it’s difficult to understand how the church and community connect.
If the church is part of the community, then the church should be active in the community. Church leaders should be the human face of the church. When people think of the church, there should be people that come to mind.
Build relationships outside the church.
I think a lot of people in the community have misconceptions about the church. Although most people think the church is a positive thing, many don’t see the need to be personally committed to a church. There could be many reasons for this. Maybe they are too busy. Or maybe they aren’t sure the church has anything to offer them – after all, the church is there for the poor and the downtrodden, not the mainstream, right? Or maybe they’ve had a bad experience at a church – felt unwelcome, judged, kicked out.
Regardless of the reason, it’s unlikely that they have a real relationship with someone who is active in a church community. When we build relationships with people outside of the church, we begin to walk in their shoes – and they in ours. They begin to see how church has a positive effect on our lives – and maybe how it could have a positive effect in theirs.
Is your church active in the local community? How do the churches around you contribute positively?
I just completed internship in Petersburg, WV. The churches there are very involved in this small community. Non-church related organizations seek the help of the churches also via the Grant County Ministerial Association. Your post is right on target. Thank you.
I love to hear that there are congregations working together with community organizations to make the community better – thank you Ivy, for sharing this!
1st) Not only do I like this…it is where we need to be…serving others beyond the halls and walls of the church. Suggestion…why don’t we get 20 folks made of both church and non church folk…band together to help our neighbors……and actually serve others without recognition or expectation…..and in the name of no church……..2nd) All of church leadership (from usher to Sunday school leader, Senior Pastor) ought to be actively recognizing those folks who do so in our community…and encourage others to do the same; 3rd) It’s not about growing the church, it is about the church serving.
Andy – wonderful points here! I especially love your number 3 … that it’s not about growing the church, it’s about being the church in the community. Christ calls us to be in relationship with our neighbors, and you’re so right that we should be serving the communities around us.
It can be tempting for the church to be its own community. Thanks for describing an integrating way, rather than an insulating way.
Thanks for your thoughts Sheila! I think it can sometimes be hard to strike a balance between finding our own community of faith and taking our faith out into the community.
it’s great to read a perspective like this regarding how the church works to transform communities.
and it’s kind of funny to read some of the points of contact you speak of in our communities, because we’ve just had some conversations on the outreach team in my church about doing things in our community. some of it is as simple as sending teams to volunteer on habitat for humanity projects, and we’ve talked about doing some kind of booth at the area county fairs.
totally agree that this kind of activity is critical to actually being able to transform our communities.
#fistbump back at’cha!
i love hearing about congregations that are getting more involved in their local communities. we’ve gotten a new ministry team together at our church that is working on becoming engaged with the community … a part of outreach, but also separate from outreach. i think this relationship-based activity in the community is really where the future of the church is headed…
That sounds like a great future to head to!