A Community Church
being the church when the pews are empty
Over the last few years, I’ve heard a comment/question that has resonated with my soul each time that it’s spoken. Whether it’s been in the context of a conference, a book, a conversation or a sermon, these words have struck me significantly each time:
If your church closed its doors tomorrow, would your community notice?
Now, before I get angry comments below, I’ll quickly say that I don’t think that the church is a building… though, in this context, we’ll assume the church gathers in a building. The heart of the question is this: is the local gathering of Christ-followers that you’re a part of play a significant role in the community around you? When thinking through this question today, I wanted to share with you some creative ways some churches are making an impact in their community.
A Substitute Staff
I recently heard of a church where the staff was required to submit an application to become a substitute teacher in their local school district as a part of the hiring process. You see, the local public school in the church’s community does not have enough substitute teachers… and so, because the church’s heart is for their community, the entire staff also serves as subs in the district. That’s right: even the Senior Pastor (his favorite class to substitute for is band/music).
The church I’m speaking of is not a large church, but it’s making a large impact in its community. Because of the staff leading the way, members of the congregation have started to volunteer at the local elementary school as yard duty teachers, crossing guards and maintenance/grounds workers. This church is bringing Christ to their community by serving their local schools. It’s kind of brilliant.
A Shelter from the Cold
In our area, there is a coalition of churches who partner together every winter in order to serve, feed and house homeless in our community during the coldest months of the year. Because we are in a warm climate, the Los Angeles area has a significant homeless population. During most of the year, many of those without a place to stay can sleep outdoors without significant risk to their health… however, during the winter, there are nights when the temperatures drop and those without a roof over their heads, especially young children, face significant consequences if they’re caught out in the cold overnight.
Churches who are a part of this coalition take turns opening up the doors of their buildings in order to offer shelter and meals during those coldest times of the year. Local congregations who do not have facilities that could house hundreds of people partner with larger churches and provide volunteers – some of whom specialize in dentistry, medical care, hair styling or other skills that help the homeless population feel cared for and worthy of attention. These churches care for those who could never repay them for the services they offer and, because of this, offer something significant for their community by offering the love of Christ to those on the margins of society.
Being a church who cares for your community is BIGGER than being a church who runs events and welcomes your community to come to you. Being a Community Church often means taking Christ to those who might not yet know Him and who probably have never seen a church who actually cared for those outside of itself.
This last week, I had the privilege of watching our church rally with our community to support a family when their son was dying from cancer. Moms, students and our church’s staff cared deeply for those who were mourning in ways that I’ve never witnessed before. Though the family does not attend our church, we found ourselves at the center of helping organize a candlelight vigil for those in the community who needed a place to ask where God was in the midst of tragedy (Read more about that vigil HERE or HERE).
This week, as you reflect on the role you play in your community, consider what some next steps might be in your context. What if your church decided to invest deeply in its local school district by providing coaches, PTA members or library volunteers? Have you ever considered taking an afternoon as a family and baking cookies for your neighbors? (Halloween is coming – reverse trick-or-treating with homemade bread could be a fun idea, right?)
Have you wrestled through this recently or maybe have a brilliant idea to share with the community?
Post your thoughts below!