Community Outreach Part 3 - Partnerships
Community Outreach Part 3 - Partnerships
A few months ago I was asked to lead a Leadership Training event on Community Outreach. I led an hour long zoom meeting, and then we opened it up for a Q&A. I’ve broken down the highlights of that leadership training event into three separate blog posts to cover the important pieces. As we begin, let’s remember the one sentence answer to the question of Community Outreach: The key to effective community outreach is to understand that all outreach of the church is an opportunity for sanctification before it is a tool of evangelism or church growth. Read that again slowly. To put it another way, outreach and missions in the church is not a service we offer that they should be thanking us for, but it is an opportunity to do what God told us to do, and we should be thanking THEM for the chance to do it.
In this final post, I want to talk the world we live in. When we’ve got our framework set, and our mentality is flipped around correctly the third piece of effective community outreach is understanding the context. Your community has specific needs, and there are partnerships all around you that can help you be effective.
1. Christian Partnerships
If you live in Michigan, there are probably at least two denominations in your town. The more open you are to working with other denominations, the more you can accomplish for God in your community. I run a relatively small church in a small town in Michigan – half the projects we do we would not have been able to do without our faith partners. Most towns have some sort of Pastor collective, council of church’s sort of thing. Make sure your pastor is a part of that. You should know your church neighbors. The biggest advice I can give with Faith partnerships is you need a kingdom mindset. You need to be focused on building up the kingdom of God, not your church building. Church’s have a nasty habit of poaching other church’s people. But if you can convince other churches – I’m just trying to do a good thing, for God’s glory, to give the disciples in my church an opportunity to serve because they need it for their spiritual growth – and if you can prove it, don’t take credit for stuff, don’t hog the spotlight, if you can get a collective of churches together that truly trust one another – it’s amazing the stuff you can do.
Warning: working together with other churches can be very tricky. There’s a reason we’re in separate buildings. And sometimes it’s silly reasons. I knew a church that wouldn’t work with us, because we were working with the Roman Catholics. Or because we used a different translation than the KJV, or because whatever. And it breaks my heart that this is true – but there are extra hurdles for women and people of color. Some super conservative churches will not work with a woman pastor. With those sort of things, we sort of have to shake the dust off our sandals and go do great work without them.
2. Non-Christian Partnerships
Which leads me to non-Christian partnerships. There are three key areas you need to be plugged into for community outreach. Local government, Chamber of Commerce (or some kind of business networking collective) and the school system. There used to be more options like that – Rotary and Lions Club and such – but those are sort of disappearing. In all three places, the method is basically the same – we are simply listening for needs, we want to know how can we help. Go to a chamber of commerce meeting and just listen. Sit in the back of a city council meeting and just listen. Lot of that stuff is available on zoom now. Schools are trickier, please don’t go to the schools and lurk. Ask the parents or the teachers, whoever you know. And if you don’t know anyone, bring a box of donuts to the district office and chat with the superintendent: hey, what does your school district need? I say this all the time, I say, “I’ve got this tiny church, we don’t have unlimited resources, but we are looking to serve.”
Another group that’s not terrible to reach out to is your police force. I reached out to our chief of police, and said, “hey, I’m new in town, can I come meet you? I just want to learn about this town and what the needs are” – and he came to my office, we had a great chat. 3. Categories
Our church found it helpful to separate two categories of community outreach. We use the words Missions And Outreach to mean separate things.
Missions is the stuff we do that fits nicely with Matthew 25, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick. These are your basic, Acts of Mercy, service opportunities. We do food bank stuff, and gift baskets at holidays, we’re part of a homeless ministry called Family Promise, we volunteer at the soup kitchen every Tuesday, and the angel tree at Christmas, and of course we send a missionary doctor to Africa every year – that’s missions.
Outreach we define as activities that promote our name in the community, without necessarily serving anyone. For example: Easter egg hunt, trunk or Treat, Parade floats, a school rally that we participate in, getting a booth at the harvest festival, in our town there’s a holiday event called the Candlewalk. Our presence at these events is not necessarily missions, but the outreach builds relationships and trust so that the community knows the church. The better the reputation of your church in the community, the more allies you’ll have when you want to do some fun crazy community project later.
One other term that came up in our discussion was Evangelism. I want to be clear on this, because evangelism is something the United Methodist Church is particularly bad at a doing.
Evangelism is not missions OR outreach. Evangelism is when you share the gospel with someone who has never heard it. Evangelism is when you take the good news of Jesus Christ (the son of God, savior of the world) and share it with someone. There are opportunities for Evangelism in both Missions AND outreach, but you can also do it as an isolated, separate event. Sitting next to a guy in a bar and telling him about Jesus is evangelism, but it’s not missions or outreach. I have seen it where a church will create a parade float and call that “evangelism” or do an easter egg hunt and a photo opp with the Easter bunny and call that “evangelism.” But it’s not. Evangelism is the act of sharing the gospel with someone explicitly. Missions and Outreach are related (and they’re all wonderful good things we need to do), but they are not all the same thing.
If I find some time in the near future perhaps I’ll throw together a bonus post containing some of the stories I told at the District Training Event. I hope this has been helpful in putting together an effective, symbiotic community outreach program in your church. If you set up the framework, get the mentality right and then engage in cooperative partnerships – your church can be used by God to benefit your community in wonderful ways.