One way to help your church begin to focus outside the walls of the church and engage the community by building relationships is to schedule a community work day in a local neighborhood, apartment complex or other development.
It is as easy as contacting the property management company that oversees the community and offering to do some specific tasks whether it be weeding, painting, picking up trash, re-mulching a playground or whatever it is that needs to be done. After you get a handle on the tasks at hand do all the necessary planning of lining up servants from the church and buying materials and make teams. Set a date that gives you some time to let residents know what you are doing.
Three weeks before you do your work day send out a postcard to the residents of the community where you are working letting them know what you will be doing and inviting them to be a part of the work. Send a second postcard or do door hangers two weeks before. The Saturday before go door to door in the community with a leaflet announcing the work day and inviting people to help. The week before put out a sandwich board sign or two at the entrance/exit to the community announcing “Community Work Day- this Saturday!”
On the day of the event have a central registration area staffed by people who will register folks from the community and those who will serve as greeters escorting people to projects they have expressed an interest in helping with. After the work is done for the day have hot dogs and hamburgers on the grill or pizza for everyone.
It goes without saying that throughout the process build relationships at every point: when knocking on the door, when greeting them the day of the work day, in working alongside each other, in eating together. Give an invitation to church or a gift bag with church materials. However, let the purpose be serving God and neighbor and relationship building and let God through his grace draw who will come to church. Measure the success of the day not on the number of people “you get” to come to the church but by how many and how deeply you engaged others you had not known in your community.
What are you waiting for- start planning your community work day today!
“Go to the principal’s office” are some words every child dreads hearing. Thankfully, I did not have to hear those too often and if the principal didn’t know my name that was all the better.
For the local church pastor, it is imperative to go to the principal’s office, however. Summer is a great time to do so. As a pastor learns about his or her community one person to reach out to are the principals at the local elementary, middle and high school. Summer is a great time to do this as the students are not there and the administration is not “as busy” as usual. Local school principals (and guidance counselors as well) have their finger on the pulse of the community and can serve as great sources of information about the needs of the local community. They and their staff come face to face with such needs nine months out of the year.
Here is a how to do it. Pick up the phone and call the school secretary and tell them who you are and ask if it would be possible to meet with the principal for a half hour to just introduce yourself (i.e. you have no agenda). I have found every school and principal I have ever called open to meeting. I then make sure I show up on time recognizing the principal’s busy schedule. I also come prepared with a series of questions. In addition to the questions I have about the needs of the community I also thank them profusely for meeting with me and ask them and share about my own life. After the meeting I will usually follow up with a thank you note with contact info offering any future assistance they may need.
Here are some of the questions I would ask…
- Tell me about the student body? What is the socioeconomic make-up, racial make up, how many children on free lunch, the boundaries of your school?, etc.
- What are some of your most successful programs for students struggling and students excelling?
- As you look at your school and the community at large what is the biggest unmet need you see?
- Are there other churches partnering with your school in any way?
- How could we best help you and your school achieve your mission?
You can come up with your own list. If nothing else, the time together with the principal or his or her designee builds good will. Notice, as the church you are not asking for anything, you are not crossing any boundary that would give the principal a problem. You are simply seeking to be a good community partner.
So, maybe this summer it would be worth taking a trip to the principal’s office. Believe me, it is not as scary as it used to be!
I recently came across this article from Ministry Matters called Welcoming Visitors without Scaring them Away that lifted up an important principle in creating a welcoming environment in local church for guests: there is a thin line between providing a great welcome and offering radically hospitality and mauling first and second time guests so they never want to come back because they think you are weird!
There has recently been renewed emphasis on welcoming guests to worship and other events at the church. From parking lot greeters to websites that answer critical questions the guest is asking, many churches have come a long way in offering radical hospitality. But there is a danger in offering such hospitality that we go overboard to the point where we maul our guests.
I have experienced this at smaller churches including ones where I have served as a pastor. A new person comes and some of the people are so excited that they just can’t contain themselves and run over and warmly welcome the new person. This would be great if it ended there. But often it doesn’t. The well meaning member then grills the new person with 20 questions or forces them to sign the church guest book (does any church still think they can successfully gain guest information for follow up with a guestbook!?!). The well meaning member then says something like “you are the first new person in a year and a half and we are so excited!” Or, “we love new families with children because we need more parents to help staff our Sunday School and Nursery.” Nine times out of ten the new person doesn’t come back.
Here are three suggestions for staying on the right side of welcome and away from mauling:
- Smile, speak and leave them alone. Do indeed smile at the guests, share a word of welcome, and maybe even chit chat for a minute but don’t interrogate. Read their body language and the quality of their interaction with you as to whether they want to be left alone or engaged in conversation.
- Always make a point of welcoming guests publicly without singling them out. Always give them permission to sign or not sign the pew pad or communication card providing the information they are comfortable sharing. If they want follow up they will give you permission by leaving their contact info. If they don’t leave their contact info don’t go searching for it on a check or taking hair samples from the pew they were sitting in and running the DNA in the church guest database maintained by your apportionment dollars.
- If you do use volunteer greeters use the ones that have some people skills and can read a guest and the level of welcome the guest might desire. It is not always easy. Sometimes though you just have to redirect the well meaning persons who end up mauling guests.
I truly believe that every guest that comes through the door is a gift from God. Choosing to welcome instead of mauling them then becomes an issue of stewardship.
Back around Easter time I wrote about the advantages to taking the church Easter Egg Hunt on the road and off campus. A church can do the same with Vacation Bible School.
Why not consider holding your regular Vacation Bible School at the public park, at the subdivision common area, a community building or some other public place so that you might reach more children and families with the important message of God’s love? Yes, it will take some logistical maneuvering, your decoration won’t be as ornate, and you will have to get permission from some entity- but the opportunity to make a greater impact is worth it.
Parents in your community are looking for something constructive for their children to do in the summer. VBS is one of those things that parents would love to send their kids. What a great way to begin to forge relationships with persons who may never darken the door of your church even for VBS.
As with your regular VBS, follow up with your VBS attendees. Invite them to worship, invite them to the next children’s program, invite them to the next mission event. And, consider going back with a follow up activity or back to the same neighborhood the next year.
There is nothing (okay, very little) that can be done better inside the church than outside (including VBS).