Connecting with the Community
For some time, I’ve been feeling like our church is isolated from our community. I know that I’ve spent so much time focusing on the sheep that I haven’t gotten involved in the community as I should. What are some of the ways pastors connect to their communities personally, and how do they lead their churches in having great community impact?
Pastor Stan Saunders – Chillicothe, MO
As a pastor it is vitally important to connect with your community. In a smaller community the local schools are vital connections. We attend many school functions: sporting events, band and choir concerts, etc. Volunteer coaching at The Y has helped me get to know kids and their families. In the past I have been involved with the Chamber of Commerce. I have served on various boards of directors in the community. My staff is all involved with various community clubs, such as 4-H and FCA. We take exercise classes at The Y or ride bikes in a local bike club.
Our church serves the poor of our community through our food pantry. Dozens of our church family serve weekly in prison ministry. We have a day care, pre-school and after-school club for children. Most of our kids come from non-church families. If there is a community event, we find a way to serve as volunteers. At the beginning of the school year, we put a gift bag together for all of the teachers, administrators, and support staff of the local public school.
I play golf mostly with guys who are not church members. I am becoming a certified coach and speaker to be able to reach out to our business community. Jesus said, “Go.” We must absolutely get outside of the four walls of the church.
Pastor Doug Foutty – Parkersburg, WV
Even though we are a small church, we haven’t used that as an excuse for not trying to reach the community. My wife is outreach motivated. God has given her beautiful ideas that have led to salvations and other ministry opportunities. She has had a Christmas party for the city where children and adults received gifts and clothing as well as new appliances. It is all done on a donation basis. Laura has headed up a food drive to give food to families during the two-week Christmas vacation from school. These families have children that eat the free breakfast and free lunch at school and they aren’t prepared to have to supplement the extra food for two weeks while the children are out of school. Laura and her team have made up 100 or so Easter Baskets and have given them out to families who can’t provide them. When you pass them out the Saturday before Easter, it makes it easy to invite the folks to Sunday morning service.
She has had an outreach that she called the “Amazing Grace.” Teens in the community formed teams to have a scavenger hunt on the main street in our town. We had clues and portions of scripture that had to be collected all up and down the street. The town agreed to close the street and even provided Fire Department personnel to block the street and participate by handing out clues. We had many, many different stations that the kids would stop at. Most of them were booths put up by various area churches that had been invited to participate. All denominations were invited. At the end, we provided pizza for the crowd of people and had a youth minister preach while the kids ate and then give an altar call.
There are so many ideas that God will give you to keep busy in your community. During prayer one time, God told Laura that he wanted to go ‘to the Prom’. He revealed to her that he didn’t want to be left out of the high school kid’s events. She was able to get hundreds of Prom dresses donated. Most of them were NEW or gently worn. She got free advertising and had a fashion show and hundreds of girls came. The plan of salvation was pinned to every dress. Ministry opportunities were available and lives were changed. This outreach was repeated for several years and it was mentioned in the Rhema Alumni magazine once.
We have filled backpacks with school supplies and set up in a shopping center parking lot and ministered to the families in this way. There are too many outreaches to mention here. Everything that was given away had the plan of salvation in it or attached to it with face to face ministry opportunities. We were careful to promote Jesus and not promote our church. You have to have a heart for ministry, a heart for people, and not try to turn things into ‘church growth schemes’. God will bless you. Laura’s newest ministry outreach is a junior chef outreach and the city has had her to hold events for them in the downtown area with this. If you want to know more about outreaches or want to invite Laura to teach on these things at your church you can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Facebook.
Pastor Brad Allen – San Mateo, CA
I have been serving as a chaplain to our county sheriff’s office and to local police and fire. It’s a good fit for a pastor. Our county has very low church attendance per capita, so most people in crisis don’t have a church home or a pastor. This is a great way to bring Christ to the community.
There are rules that limit what you can say initially when you meet people on a chaplain call, but if you find that they have a christian background or if they ask you specific questions, then you can go from there.
I’ve done weddings and funerals for people that I wouldn’t have met otherwise in the community through chaplaincy. I’d recommend it to any ordained minister, male or female.
Another area where a pastor can use their gifts to serve outside the walls of his or her church is by doing chapel services as a volunteer at local christian schools. I’ve been doing this for 10 years and love it! Everything is done with object lessons and humor and we’ve seen many children make their commitment to Christ in these services. Kid’s families and a few teachers have come to our church as a result.
Pastor John White – Decatur, AL
We have a tremendous fall festival every year attracting several thousand people. We have had people compare it to the county fair. The difference is that everything is free and we reserve a time just to minister to those present. It has been a real blessing to our community and is always a great success.
And then there are always times when we reach out to our community in times of disaster. In April of this year when tornadoes ripped through our community and the surrounding areas, we opened our facilities to the Red Cross. We fed their disaster relief teams and volunteers hot meals daily during the rescue and recovery time.
Our city knows that we are a giving church and anything they need from us, we are willing to help with. I suggest that you develop a good relationship with the city fathers and let them know that your church facilities and members can be counted on if the need arises.
Pastor Thom Fields – Kennewick, WA
One of the most effective tools that we’ve developed is a community outreach we call, “Free Market.” It’s sort of like a Flea Market, only not at all the same. A Flea Market is where you take your junk and try to get somebody to give you their cash in exchange. “Free Market” is where we bring our best and give it away, totally free of charge. “NO STRINGS ATTACHED—JUST LIKE GOD’s LOVE” (this is our “tag line” and we have it printed on hanging banners everywhere!).
I make it a point to really challenge the congregation (this is my assignment for the entire event). I double-dog-dare them to ask God what they should give. I am very quick to remind them often that “if” they ask God…He’s going to tell them, AND, He’s going to lead them to give away something REALLY NICE! And then they’re going to have to DO IT!
I take several weeks to teach the congregation. My goal isn’t only to influence them in the arena of giving, but also to provide them with the understanding of what we’re attempting to accomplish. We’re setting up a massive shopping event directed at reaching every segment of our community. During this teaching time, we contact agencies that work with the most needy families in our area and we provide them with special tickets which THEY GIVE to 150-200 families that their organizations feel would benefit the most from such an endeavor. These special guests are then granted the first opportunity to any and every thing we’re giving away by having a 90-minute head start inside our Free Market. All other people are held back outside of temporary fencing until we open the flood gates, at which time ANYBODY is free to enter the market to take ANYTHING they’d like.
We’ve developed several teams that serve with specific assignments. One team sets up the merchandise, for example, and arranges all of the items donated, much like a department store: furniture in one area, appliances in another, and so on. We accept everything (including clothing). Another team is trained as “Personal Shoppers.” They assist families in locating the types of items that they’re hoping to acquire. Another team is prepared with pickup trucks, tie-downs and furniture dollies. We actually load up and deliver! This year we also hired a local high school football team to assist with loading and delivery and sowed a financial seed towards their team. This allowed us the opportunity to connect with and impact our local school district.
Every year our community is blown away by the generosity of our people and the fact that we’re willing to go to great lengths to serve our community. The testimonies alone have been amazing and “worth it” … not only from those who have been on the receiving end, but also by those who have positioned themselves to be a blessing to our community by bringing their best to give away.
This event has allowed us to impact our community in a very effective way AND produced great spiritual growth opportunities at the same time.
We open the gate for ticketed guests for the first 90 minutes.
Pastor John Lowe – Warsaw, IN
We are a church that decided a long time ago to give ourselves away. So we are very community, as well as world, minded.
1. Free food pantry available Monday—Thursday, from 8-9 AM.
2. We developed the Gift of Warmth program to raise money to keep people’s utilities on in the winter.
3. We did a tent city on the courthouse lawn to draw attention to the need for a homeless shelter.
4. We do local and state jail ministry.
5. We purchased a bunch of stolen, unclaimed bicycles from the police department. We repaired them and gave them away.
6. We do bicycle repair days in the park. We flip hamburgers in the summer time at the park for free and feed people (witnessing as opportunity arises).
7. We do a Christmas tea, where the ladies decorate their table, invite friends and share the gospel in the church event.
8. We do VBS, blow it out.
9. We do a motorcycle ride annually and make it a great event. The money raised is for the homeless shelter in town that we began and gave away.
10. We do marriage events for the community and advertise heavily and help people in the community to have successful relationships.
11. Father’s Day event—shoot sporting clays at the church (we have 28 acres).
12. Love people, do ride-alongs with the police, sit with poor people in the park, go to the emergency rooms and be there with people who are in crisis. Buy them food, drinks, and make phone calls.
Love Jesus and love people. Ideas will flourish!!
Pastor Phil Edwards – Ennice, NC
This is something I have difficulty doing. I’ve tried several things but still we have been ineffective. Currently we are doing small construction jobs.
Dr. Dan Beller – Tulsa, OK
When I was pastoring Evangelistic Temple, in Tulsa, OK, we did a special outreach program to the apartment complexes south of the church. For several Saturdays, we did a cook-out to feed people. We found that some of the people in that area were actually hungry and really appreciated the food. Along with the feeding program, we invited them to a Sunday afternoon church service in the club house at one of the apartment complexes. It was easier to get them to attend this kind of service rather than inviting them to the regular church, per se. We had an outreach pastor to oversee this program but I, as senior pastor, would speak and visit there occasionally.
Until a person is converted and maturing in the Lord, it is sometimes difficult for them to adjust to the church culture of a regular church. It is all new to them at first. Eventually, however, some of them began to attend the regular services at Evangelistic Temple which is just a few blocks away. It was always thrilling to see these new converts grow and mature because of the “redemption and lift” principle of the Gospel.
Pastor Mark Garver – Madison, AL
I do believe making an impact in your community can take various forms. Depending on what goes on in your community, some things can be easily done. For instance, there is a street festival in our community within walking distance of our church. So every year we offer parking. We have washed car windshields, given out water, and then we get a booth at the festival and give out balloons, face paint, we have done raffles, and had games for the children. It gives us good standing in the community and with one day’s work, it makes a huge impact because it is so well attended by our community. Then we also try and do three other things during the year to bless our community. We have found once a quarter works well for us. Some of them are with other churches or other organizations. Some of the things require more on our part, but some things are very easy like a shoe or coat drive for one of the local shelters. There are other things you can do to bless your community. I or a staff member have gone to open the city council meetings in prayer. We make ourselves available during times of crisis in our community with manual labor, financial aid, and spiritual comfort, etc.
I would say it is like physically working out. Don’t come up with a lot of things for your congregation to do all at once. Start with something easy for them and then let them get excited about touching their community.