Churches, schools, community groups, sports clubs and businesses make up the fabric of a local community in very tangible ways. This became very evident during the pandemic as each of these pillars endeavoured to respond in practical ways to local needs. There were great examples of congregations reaching out in partnership such as allowing a school to use church facilities, joined up foodbank collections and hamper distributions, as well as supporting the lonely through regular telephone calls.
Congregations were able to be present in their community beyond the walls of the church, by doing something together with other groups or organisations that they would not have been able to do by themselves.
Over the years many churches have found themselves pushed towards the edge of community life. Local attitudes have shifted leaving churches increasingly disconnected with the people around them, and often perceived as disinterested or irrelevant.
Yet the church is a window advertisement to the world for the gospel of Jesus Christ. If unreached people want to know who Jesus is, what he is like and whether he is worth knowing, then they will naturally observe our lives and the actions of the church. We are a witness to our community both corporately and individually.
Where is your church in relation to community life? At the centre? On the edge? Somewhere in between? How is your church perceived by the wider community?
Taking opportunities to grow your congregation’s presence in the community in different ways will be welcomed and could help to shift those perceptions to more positive ones, build goodwill and hopefully provoke some curiosity towards the gospel.
Here are two opportunities to move in ways that will help to grow your presence in the local community in this next season:
1. MOVING TOWARDS
Consider ways to be present and show support at the initiatives of other groups in the community. For example, attend matches at your local sports club (even if you don’t like sport!) or join in with a community gardening project. Being present over time suggests you are reliable and committed which will open up opportunities to become more involved in simple ways in community life, that will be greatly appreciated.
One of the greatest gifts we can offer to the local community is encouragement. After such a difficult period for community life during the pandemic, look out for ways to be positive and bring encouragement. Send a thank you card or a small gift to local businesses to let them know they are valued, and set an example of shopping local. Consider providing buns to the school staff room with a card from your congregation expressing thanks for the valuable role they play in the lives of the next generation.
All of this will build a great deal of goodwill and trust within the local community that will help to show that perhaps churches have something positive to offer to the community after all.
2. MOVING IN PARTNERSHIP
Consider ways to move in partnership with other community groups in responding to the real issues on the ground in simple ways that are sustainable. If there already is an effective pensioners club in the community then look for ways to support and join in with that, rather than duplicating a service. Or think of a different way that you can meet and support older people that complements rather than competes with what is already there.
Moving in partnership can present itself in different ways:
- Signposting: What opportunities are happening in the community that your church might be able to endorse through church announcements or through your congregation’s social media channels?
- Alongside: What opportunities are happening locally that your church might be able to join in with in some small ways? Can you offer car parking to assist a nearby community event? Can you provide refreshments at a community picnic? Can you recruit some volunteers for a local initiative tackling loneliness, to help expand its reach?
- Inviting: What needs or concerns in the community are not being met that your congregation could consider responding to? How might you lead that response whilst inviting partnership and resources from other local groups? The mental health crisis is apparent in every community. This requires a joined-up community approach in which your local congregation can play its part, in partnership with other groups and agencies.
Your congregation might be small and have few resources but partnership with other groups or organisations can offer a real opportunity to be present in your community in very visible and tangible ways.
As you think about ‘Getting going again’ in your local witness, take time to reflect upon the ways you might be more present in the community by moving towards and in partnership with other groups and organisations in your community.
To read the previous blogs in the Getting Going Again series, please click the links below:
Blog 1 // PROFILE
Blog 2 // PROVISION
Neil Harrison is PCI's Mission Development Officer.