By Alison Zeller
What does it mean to be a community church?
Should you add the word community to your church name? Should you sponsor the town’s summer fair? Should you open up a food pantry or offer free bus tickets?
These days, our culture is changing rapidly, and within that discussion, several church buzzwords are cropping up. “Community church” doesn’t have the same connotation as it once did. Nowadays, you hear about “missional” and “attractional” churches. (You can read more about the differences here.) But no matter the label, any church can reach outside its doors and share the Gospel message. Any church can be a community church.
God’s Word about Church in the Community
In Leviticus 19:18, God calls us to serve our neighbors. Yes, this includes the family sitting next to you in worship on Sundays, but there is an entire community of neighbors living right outside your church doors, too. As Brad Brisco puts it, “Many times we wrongly assume that the primary activity of God is in the church, rather than recognizing that God’s primary activity is in the world, and the church is God’s instrument sent into the world to participate in his redemptive mission.”
Jesus’ earthly mission took him beyond the walls of worship and he commands us to do the same (Matthew 28:19). Just as he spoke words of forgiveness and mercy to those around him, is it our task as Christians “to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10 ESV) - within the church and within the community.
God knows that our communities need us and he gives us biblical instructions to meet those needs. We are to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and visit the sick (Matthew 25:35–40). He wants us to come together in kindness as we “bear one another’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2 ESV). And he promises that even small acts of faith and witness will have a big impact (Matthew 13:31–33).
Bringing a Community Focus to Your Church
There are a multitude of ways for your church to be a community church. It’s not a one-size-fits-all approach. There are community churches that meet in coffee shops, but there are also community churches that hold services in 100-year-old buildings. There is no one right way to do it. Pray, and ask God to direct your efforts in the community - see where he takes you!
You may want to start by taking an informal survey of your church and community. Ask your members about the needs they see in their neighborhoods. Are they already volunteering for community organizations? Take a drive around town. Click through your local newspaper’s website. Analyze community statistics from the US Census. Ask God to open your eyes to needs that you may not have seen before and the people who desperately need to hear the Gospel message. Don’t expect people to come running to your church - can you meet them where they are, considering both spiritual and physical locations?
Your community-focused efforts will probably begin with the church’s pastors and staff forming a plan. (The Externally Focused Network has an evaluation and worksheet packet that you may find helpful.) As early as you can, encourage church attendees to prioritize community involvement, too. Reference your list of community needs and hold a brainstorming session to determine how your church can help. You could even set up teams and assign one group to cover each of the three biggest needs in your community.
As you look for ways to serve your community, remember to focus on building trust and forming relationships. Use the strength of Jesus to serve your neighborhood as he would - act selflessly, exhibit grace, work tirelessly to spread his Word, and offer forgiveness at every turn. This could mean seeking partnerships with local businesses or schools even though they remain secular. It could mean making a commitment to bring coffee to the homeless man downtown on a daily basis. It could mean working 12-hour Saturday shifts as part of the hospital’s grief-counseling program. It will definitely mean bringing Jesus’ Gospel message to the community and watching as the Holy Spirit works in the hearts and minds of those you serve.
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