how to make a local difference
This post was originally published at Bibledude.net in 2011. Although the Barna study and statitstics are old, I believe the information is incredibly relevant today. Now more than ever, we need our churches to be positive influences in their communities. I hope this post gives you an idea of how you can get started.
Last week, the Barna Group released a new report revealing that 75% of adults believe that churches have a positive effect on their local communities. This sounds like good news, right? So why is it that church membership is dwindling? It seems that people would want to take part in this positive influence of the community around them.
Here’s the thing … the next question asked was:
Many churches and faith leaders want to contribute positively to the common good of their community. What does your community need, if anything, that you feel churches could provide?
Many adults had no idea how churches could contribute – even though they had previously said the presence of a church was a positive addition to the community. Here were the other results:
Addressing poverty 29%
Teaching the Bible and giving spiritual direction 12%
Serving youth, families, & the elderly 13%
Cultivating biblical values 14%
Assist those in recovery 10%
Assist with financial or career education 7%
Be inclusive and accepting 3%
Be engaged politically 1%
What this report really reveals is that although people are not hostile toward churches, they really don’t see how the local church plays an active role in its community. This is particularly true when churches are located in an area with very little poverty.
But the gospel message is about transformation … that in Christ we are a new creation, full of hope and joy. We live full and abundant lives because of a greater purpose. So if the gospel message is about transforming lives, then shouldn’t our churches be transforming their local communities?
It seems there are a couple of things church leaders can learn from this report. Just what can we do to make sure our churches have a positive impact on their local communities?
Have a public face.
Show up at community events. All too often our church leaders do most of their work inside the church building with church members. They don’t see the need to attend the local parade, community fair, chamber of commerce, town meetings. Because the church has largely been absent from these community events, it’s difficult to understand how the church and community connect.
If the church is part of the community, then the church should be active in the community. Church leaders should be the human face of the church. When people think of the church, there should be people that come to mind.
Build relationships outside the church.
I think a lot of people in the community have misconceptions about the church. Although most people think the church is a positive thing, many don’t see the need to be personally committed to a church. There could be many reasons for this. Maybe they are too busy. Or maybe they aren’t sure the church has anything to offer them – after all, the church is there for the poor and the downtrodden, not the mainstream, right? Or maybe they’ve had a bad experience at a church – felt unwelcome, judged, kicked out.
Regardless of the reason, it’s unlikely that they have a real relationship with someone who is active in a church community. When we build relationships with people outside of the church, we begin to walk in their shoes – and they in ours. They begin to see how church has a positive effect on our lives – and maybe how it could have a positive effect in theirs.
Is your church active in the local community? How do the churches around you contribute positively?