Too many of our churches just aren't part of the local community.
It's sad, but true.
And this isn't just a phenomena in one church or community, but seems to be a wide spread epidemic.
Sure, a congregation may have church members from the neighborhood or town, but too often churches become a closed system. Have you ever walked into a group and you just knew they spoke nicely enough to you, but didn't really need or want you in the established group? A club of folk, who are comfortable with each other, settle into their established routines, rituals, traditions. Life is good, and as the years roll by, the club insiders go through all the stages of life taking care of each other.
But give a group a few years, or a decade or two or three, and it gets tougher to engage anyone new or different. If you throw in any mobility out of the area of the now grown up "children of the church," or any transition of the neighborhood, and you've got all the makings of a congregation which will soon see decline and approach to the end of its life cycle.
How does a church awaken to the reality of their place in the community today? How does a church reach this generation and engage them into the full life of the church family? Who will step up and create a dynamic, new, "next chapter" for the church that is similar to resurrection? Or is the group doomed to continued decline and death?
It's an interesting, complicated subject which would take too many words for one blog and may differ somewhat from church to church. What I do know is that there are ways a church can once again find its place in the community and become useful in the neighborhood. Many churches struggle with this issue, yet some are becoming experimental in living out the Gospel. Imagine that sort of reawakening to the salvation drama that is still playing out today, and a God still at work in people's lives in your community, and perhaps you can dream a new dream.
Churches are crafting all sorts of authentic ways to share their gifts and interests with the community to establish new relationships. You could host anything from AA to the Farmer's Market. You could house Scout troops or offer opportunities for children or teens in the community. You could have a preschool or summer ministries. You could offer parenting support and encouragement. You could be prepared and able to respond when there is a community crisis. You could tutor in schools. You could offer your facility and people to provide a day center for folks in need. The opportunities are as multiple as the real life situations of the neighbors within 20 minutes of your church.
You could go into your community and get outside your church walls, or you could invite the community in, or you could do both.
You could allow your imagination and action to be captivated by loving God and loving your community in ways that are transformational for both church and community.
What a glorious mission and task as we live out what it means the Body of Christ today for the world!
What you don't want to do is ONLY become a community center for rent. You do want your church to look like your community, and you do want to fling open the doors of the building so that you can build up the lives of all who enter and welcome them into the full life of the congregation.
Help your church become a healthy community center for your neighbors. What a great opportunity to get to know people, to provide unexpected "value added" services, to share abundant life as we risk engaging our community based on their needs as we fall more in love with God and our neighbors.