I remember sitting in a seminar once hearing the presenter ask, "If your local church disappeared, would anybody in the neighbourhood notice?"
Stinging words. Sobering.
Sit with that question and chew on it. Let it disturb you the way it disturbed me.
In Matthew 5:14-16 Jesus said, "You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven."
Christian community is intended to be noticeable, and it’s intended to be transformative to the surrounding community—light in a dark place. And what makes us noticeable and transformative, according to Jesus, is our good works.
So what good works is your church offering your community that are being seen and noticed by your neighbours, bringing light to the surroundings, and causing them to give glory to our Father? What are you offering that would be missed if you stopped?
If you’re a pastor or church leader, maybe these words just make you feel tired. How can you launch another program or find more volunteers to do something out in your community, when you’re already stretched as thin as can be just maintaining what’s already in place?
If you’re a church member, maybe these words make you feel helpless. How could you possibly do anything that would make any difference in your community?
While there are no ‘silver-bullets’ or simple solutions, here are five stepping-stones that hopefully will help construct a path into your neighbourhood.
5 Stepping Stones to Impact Your Neighbourhood
Before you can venture out into the neighbourhood, there may have to be some church renovations—not to the building, but to the hearts and minds of God’s people. Here are a couple of indicators that renovations might be required:
- If the prevailing model at church is to invite people from the community to come into your church to experience your environment, then its time for a renovation. God is on mission, and we are to be on mission with him—outside our environment, in the community.
- If members look to the pastor and key church leaders to do the ministry of the church, then its time to do some renovating of our paradigms--from ‘spectator’ to ‘participant’. The role of the pastor is to equip so that the people can do the ministry. God is on mission, and his followers are ALL on mission with him!
To help with this may I suggest the courses and programs offered by Simply Mobilizing Canada. Church Leaders, check out Interface as a first step. Church members would benefit from the Kairos Course, Empowered to Influence, or The Unfinished Story.
Simply Mobilizing leaders would be glad to help you get these courses going in your church to start you on your interior renovation project. You can get in touch here: Contact Simply Mobilizing Canada
It seems pretty obvious to pray, but this kind of prayer is as much a posture as it is a petition.
"God, what are you doing in our neighbourhood? Give us eyes to see, and hearts ready to join you."
- Walk your neighbourhood prayerfully, asking God to show you what you haven’t noticed before. Pray with faith over things that are not as they should be.
- Ask God to show you how your church can be part of addressing the gaps that become evident in your community.
- Listen in prayer together to what God stirs up as you pray and learn.
You are uniquely positioned. There is no church community quite like yours and there is no neighbourhood community quite like yours. Who are your neighbours? How will you get to know them? This step is crucial to all the steps that follow.
Here are some ways to investigate:
- I recommend you begin by looking at the community demographic information available in the 2021 Census. If you would like to access a customized profile for your church, contact Lorne Hunter at Outreach Canada (email@example.com) or read more about our Customized Community Profiles.
- Go to your city hall and look at the community plan. Find out where the community centers and local facilities like libraries are located and go speak with the staff there about the needs in the community.
- Ask the local police force what challenges they see in the neighbourhood and how your church could contribute to overall community health.
- Knock on doors! Put together a short list of questions, and interview some of your neighbours or local businesses about what they see and know.
- The more you ask and learn the more you will begin to understand the answer to the question, ‘Who is my neighbour?’
As you pray and listen, and as you investigate, you will likely discover that God is already at work in your community. And you will probably discover groups, churches and ministries that are already active in addressing some of the needs you’ve noticed as you investigate. Working alongside other groups multiplies limited capacity. It isn’t essential to absolutely agree in every area to find common ground to work for the benefit of the vulnerable in your neighbourhood.
Find places where you can work together and, in the process, build bridges of relationship with people who think differently than you do. Those relationship bridges are the place where thoughtful conversations about what is real and true can happen. And along the way good works that draw attention to God our Father, benefit many.
- Every community is different--start with other local churches and find out what they’re doing.
- If your community has a significant immigrant community, look for the immigrant support service providers—they always need help!
- If your community has a homeless population or struggles with poverty, look for the services trying to address these challenges.
- Ask the local schools what you could offer to support the more vulnerable students. Start slow and build trust with the school staff.
- Show care for the community by participating in environmental stewardship programs, many of which will be led by the city or by local environmental groups e.g. garbage cleanup, stream-keeping, community gardens plots, etc.
Nurture the passion of those who have a vision for serving their community. Don’t be discouraged if the offering is small and seems insignificant. Jesus was able to multiply a few loaves and fish to feed a big crowd. Trust his multiplication of your efforts as you continue in a posture of praying, listening, learning, connecting and serving.
My prayer is that as you build connections into your neighbourhood, your church will become like a city on a hill that shines brightly, transforming the whole community with its light. Certainly noticed, and deeply appreciated.
Lorna Johnston is the Diaspora Ministries Leader at Outreach Canada. She leads two national teams -- Simply Mobilizing Canada (SMC) and Loving Muslims Together (LMT). She works with teams of diverse and experienced leaders and ministries across Canada to alert and activate the church in Canada to the changing opportunities to engage God's mission right here in Canada.