05 Conclusion



Partnering with Churchgoers for Neighborhood Impact

If you are a pastor, volunteer coordinator or other church leader who picked up Better Together, you may be wondering: What do I do with this data? Perhaps you’re inclined to interpret the research about these generous, independent groups as an admonishment (or even an excuse) for churches to do less.

That might be the case, if you’re thinking strictly of organizing church-led programs—and perhaps, for your ministry, doing less in this regard would be a wise or welcome shift! But, in another sense, this study should prompt all churches to do more in terms of intimately knowing the needs and neighbors in their community. It suggests they do more to listen to the concerns, fuel the passions and support the gifts of churchgoers. It urges they do more to equip laity to understand and live out the gospel beyond church walls and contexts.

You may have heard people say, “Work smarter, not harder,” a wellknown professional mantra and productivity hack; this idea might apply well to this conversation. Decentralizing Christians’ efforts to meet community needs is strategic, compassionate and Kingdom-minded “smart work,” involving a commitment from clergy, lay leaders and everyday churchgoers to be good stewards of their resources, time and talents. As Ephesians 4: 16 states, “As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.” (NLT)

Here is some of the work and growth that may lie ahead for you and your church:

Get to know your neighborhood with your congregation.

According to pastors’ responses, there appears to be a natural overlap between the churches where leaders understand community needs and churches where congregants have agency to impact their communities. Has your team put down neighborhood roots and developed strong partnerships with local officials, schools, organizations and other churches? How do you listen to, monitor and educate yourselves and your congregation about the pressing issues in your area?

People who are already sitting in your Sunday services could be guides in understanding local problems and might already be interested or invested in the solutions. Further, some Christians who aren’t yet participating in volunteer groups would be open to doing so if their churches pointed them in the right direction. Get serious about recording and sharing such information across your church, perhaps even helping congregants map their gifts and concerns to connect with other individuals who share them and groups that address them.
Perhaps you might note their goals and motivations, hoping to place or move them along the spectrum of participation: from community, to compassionate, to collaborative participants. Continue to collect data and stories about active groups to learn from their experiments and successes. This will not only strengthen your church’s own formal outreach and mission opportunities, but also encourage and demonstrate the reach of your congregation.

Carefully consider when your church should step up or step aside.

How should pastors, elders and staff members determine when to pursue church-led initiatives or support lay-led groups? There will be cases in which one, both or neither make the most sense. You might also consider a range of possible ministry responses when opting to support laity, including financial donations, shared meeting spaces, themed sermons, announcements and advertisements, forums, volunteer coordination, a season of prayer and so on. Engaging with the community should involve a process of discernment, undertaken with stakeholders and experts who have knowledge of the needs, church strengths and callings, financial resources and the possible reception or result in the neighborhood. Establish a process by which church leadership can agree upon which next step(s) to prioritize. Aim to never duplicate efforts; rather, initiate new ones or celebrate existing ones.

Recognize the many other needs being met through lay-led community groups.

In a practical sense, volunteer gatherings might address poverty, protect vulnerable youth, clean community spaces, raise funds for non-profits, advocate for equality or support local arts. These associations can also have other benefits which are less tangible: stronger faith, new perspectives, deeper friendships.

Barna studies underscore how young adults in the U.S. long for meaningful relationships, vocational purpose and mentorship. They are eager to see the Church in action, taking its justice responsibilities seriously. Additionally, older generations struggle to build community, particularly with those who see the world differently, and may not grasp how they can be a valuable, active part of the Church’s local presence. By nurturing congregant passions and volunteer groups, ministries also nurture believers to be formed and fortified in other important ways—perhaps more organically than is possible in church services and environments alone.

See passionate Christians as a renewable, not finite, resource.

Rallying Christians to serve their communities, with or without a formal church program, may raise a common clergy fear: that you might wear out, distract or lose your best ministry volunteers. Understandable. For the most part, however, this study suggests committed volunteers don’t feel taxed for time or pressured to choose between their church or community service. Further, your congregants have a unique, personal chance to connect with non-Christian neighbors who often put more faith in individual community members than in the local church. Volunteer group participants can act as a valuable extension of your place of worship and build the credibility of the Church at large through relationships and good works.

Ultimately, you can’t control how your current or potential volunteers use their time—but you can focus on making, teaching and empowering disciples who show up wholly and generously, in church and all the other dimensions of their lives.

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