You’ve started small.
The ladies society made cookies for the police department on valentines day and they are thinking of doing the same thing for the fire department on Easter. A few are even talking about a “thank you” spaghetti dinner for both. Those who delivered them shared in church how the dispatcher had a shocked look on his face and the captain came out and practically had tears in his eyes. Someone wrote a note that said how grateful they were for their service and pray for them daily. Then you read the thank you note in church and for the first time in a long time you felt good about who you were as a church. People were smiling and talking about it afterward.
What’s the next step?
Next step for what? To ramp up the acts of service? Good! To ramp up the culture shift? Even Better! What could you do to engage people for living into their Christian faith? Time to do some more homework. But not just getting more information gathered. This is going to take a process that engages more and more people in the congregation in small step activities that they can do. Things where they will not be embarrassed and will captivate them for what will come next.
But know this: doing the following by a closed group will backfire. If an ever widening core are not part of the process they will likely resist or even revolt at the next steps. So a word to the wise. Invite, encourage and engage people along the way and they will more likely have ownership in the outcome and the next steps. We are talking about a shift in the culture or personality of the congregation, a shift from concern for self to a concern for those who do not know Jesus. It’s not about playing church but being the church. But it takes concrete steps that are merely tools to engage people. It takes leaders who will initiate and encourage them, putting the emphasis on faithfulness and loving others who are probably far from Jesus. Yet you will also want to learn the data when you put those steps into action.
- Begin regular prayer walking. Most people take walks and most members pray - at least in church. Yet this activity, when you put the two together, is an amazing step for many declining churches. First, it get’s people out doing something that is not a huge stretch. They know how to do both. Secondly, as people walk and seek to see things from God’s perspective (“God so loved the world…”) they will see things they missed when driving in a car. Thirdly, when they pray for what they see (home, broken down car, homeless, place of business, etc) their heart will be shaped by God’s desire that they be salt and light to this community.
- Interviews. Sure you know your community, at least you think you do. As a group, think together about who (groups, businesses, non-profits, school, etc) might be “experts” in knowing your community. That is, how they might know something you don’t from their work or service. Introduce yourself and schedule a time for a formal interview. Tell them you want to learn from them. You are not there to witness to them or invite them to church (although that may happen!). You are there to ask them, from their perspective: What are the greatest strengths in our community? What are the greatest challenges people are facing? How might we partner with you to improve the community? You might be surprised at what you hear. People are flattered to be asked their opinion and share their wisdom. You are not promising a partnership but exploring together what God might have in store. Even if nothing concrete happens the dialogue will often spur other thoughts and ideas and momentum for your church. It will certainly create good will with the people you talk to. Humility and curiosity is the guideline here.
- Surveys with friends, neighbors and co-workers. No matter how small, your church has a network of relationships at garden clubs, sports clubs, neighborhood associations, businesses and across the back fence. The same questions can be asked. Not only will you get some great information but perhaps more importantly will be the dialogue that is initiated, the relationship formed and the opportunity to find out what makes them tick. Furthermore if an activity is launched down the road this new or strengthened relationship can lead to an invitation to help which may lead them to learn more about your church anymore importantly, your Savior.
- Demographic studies. You and I would be shocked at the level of detail research companies know about us and our buying habits. There is far more known about us than what is filled out on the every decade census forms. Every click of the internet tells a story that someone is paying attention to. So much is available for the wise church that wants to be intentional about reaching out to their community. missioninsite.com is one resource for this and many denominational representatives in your area can help you get access to their pages and even help you fine tune what kinds of information you want to know. It will be overwhelming, insightful and often surprising compared to what you thought was going on in your community.
You are going to hear a lot of interesting stories from people doing these things! Repeat them to the church! Inspire others to engage and get involved in the “homework” of learning about your community. Then, if you engage the people in your church in an ever widening circle to carry out these steps you will unleash a curious and loving group of people who are looking for a vehicle to make a difference! The information is going to be helpful but the process with people invited will be even more powerful to take you to the next step: Doing something more than throwing it against the wall and seeing if it sticks!
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Scott Gress is called by Lutheran Counseling Services and partners with the FL-GA District of the Lutheran Church as an independent contractor. He specializes in Leadership Training, Consulting, Coaching and Coach Training. Contact Scott to continue the conversation or experience a free sample coaching session. 561-542-4472, firstname.lastname@example.org or scottgress.com