By Kristin Schultz
As we look around our churches and our communities, we see no shortage of pain. We see single moms and unemployed parents struggling under the weight of financial stress. We see parents in pain as they watch their grown children walk away from the Lord. We see middle- and high-school students paralyzed by questions of identity and wrestling to find where they fit into the world. We know people who are thirsting for the love and care of Jesus—the hungry, the incarcerated, the widow, the homebound. The list goes on and on.
As you explore how you can expand your care ministry outside your church’s walls, you may consider several facets of your church’s resources, passions, gifts, and abilities. When expanding your outreach, partnering with existing ministries sets you up for success because you are not reinventing the wheel. Existing ministries will already have a leadership structure, a facility, and fundraising programs. As a leader, you can partner with those ministries on many different levels, depending upon their needs and your church’s capacity to meet them.
Ministries that serve the community need volunteers. Volunteer roles are a wonderful way for you and your congregation to get involved in caring directly for your community. When you partner with a community organization, your congregation has a clear call for service. Your partner organization probably has spots on a volunteer schedule they need to fill. Offer to fill these spots and share these opportunities with your congregation. Do not underestimate the power of a personal invitation. Directly asking a person to volunteer and join you in service is very effective.
There are many ways to partner with ministries that care for the community and expand your compassionate reach beyond the church walls. While some organizations could benefit from your congregation’s time, many already have enough volunteers but desperately need funds to meet their expenses. Don’t forget that generosity with time and money are essential for those ministries to meet the community’s needs. Partnering with an organization financially is more than writing a check. Hosting a fundraising event like a special dinner or a rummage sale is one of many other ways you can help. Fundraisers are an opportunity for your church family to be personally involved in the financial partnership and to feel connected to that organization.
While you may be looking to roll up your sleeves and partner with a ministry in day-to-day care, your partner ministry could benefit from your skills on their board of directors or other committees. Community organizations often want church leaders on their boards for the spiritual perspective you bring to the table. As a board or committee member, you’ll be key to guiding the organization both strategically and financially. While working with like-minded ministries is of the greatest importance, this could be an opportunity for you to bring a Gospel perspective to a secular organization. Administrative partnerships are key to expanding ministry.
Founder or Catalyst
Most of the time, partnering with an existing ministry is the best way to expand into the community quickly and effectively. If you personally feel called to start a new ministry, engage with another church or community leader. While you might have to start from scratch, you will not be in it alone. Partnering with a like-minded leader to share the burden ensures accountability and cooperation. Pairing your gifts with another person’s gifts brings more talent and perspective to the table and creates a stronger ministry.
Before you launch a new outreach ministry, take a careful inventory of existing ministries and organizations. You might create a whole new ministry, such as providing quality shoes to families who cannot afford them for their children. You may also find that you can add on to an existing ministry like a food pantry to offer people school supplies, backpacks, or coats and mittens.
Perhaps you feel like it is becoming more challenging to get people to come to your church. Some people keep their distance because they’re proud or angry; they think they can solve their own problems. Getting outside of your church walls and bringing Jesus to the community through care and service programs is how your church lives out the Gospel calling.
Jesus taught within the synagogues, but he also showed care for the people on the outside—on the road, by a well, on a hillside, and ultimately on the cross. When we join Jesus in his mission, we meet people where they are. Partnering with organizations by asking them how we can best help and then following through is living out the disciple life.
Tips and Trends
Care ministries like food pantries, coat drives, and grief support groups have long served people in our communities. But as the world changes and people in different communities experience unique challenges, we as the Church have the opportunity to think outside the box and partner with existing organizations. Here are a few ideas:
- “Grace Day”—Every August, Zion Lutheran Church in Hillsboro, Missouri, hosts “Grace Day”—a day on which community members can access several items and services at no cost. Grace Day typically occurs right before the school year starts so parents and students can start the year with confidence. At a Grace Day, community members can receive free services:
- Eye exams
- Car diagnostics and repairs
- Clothing (including shoes)
- Car Care Ministry—Reliable transportation can be the difference between stable employment, and the uncertainty of unemployment. That’s why Grace Community Church in Goshen, Indiana, offers a car ministry for single mothers and people in financial hardship who are having vehicle difficulties. Applicants fill out a form to book an appointment where volunteers will perform free basic car maintenance:
- Oil changes
- Brake service
- Wheel bearing replacement
- Basic check-engine diagnostics
- Modern support groups—Everyone faces many temptations. Churches have opened their doors to alcohol- and drug-rehabilitation programs for years, and now there are a growing number of recovery groups for people struggling with other temptations like pornography, sexual addiction, and anger. Your church can offer space to a local or national organization that facilitates support groups for these and a myriad of other issues like eating disorders, abusive relationships, and loneliness.
- Career Resources—Even as we hear about employers who are unable to fill positions on the news, many in our churches and communities are unemployed or underemployed. Your church can partner with a career-services organization to offer resources ranging from providing suitable clothing for job interviews, to resume editing, to networking opportunities, to job coaching.
- Caregiver resources—So many people in the church care for their family members. Many churches provide connections to respite care or provide resources to those caregivers so that they can care for themselves and their loved ones. Some churches recognize the role that students play in the lives of their friends and those churches offer programs to help them identify when a friend may be experiencing a mental health crisis. These programs advise students how to seek out help for their friends who are struggling.
No matter what you choose to do to expand care outside of your church walls, pray about it and trust that the Lord will show you the specific needs in your community that you can help meet.
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