Serving our communities and being the best neighbors we can be should be a goal of every faith community. Being for our neighbors, however, is easier said than done at times. Over the past century our churches have gone from being the centers of their neighborhoods to hosting programs that pull people from much larger geographic regions. The average volunteer or visitor most likely drives past many churches on their way to yours. This means we find ourselves less connected to our immediate neighbors than ever before.
Let’s quickly look at five ways your church and staff can feel the pulse of your neighborhood again.
Create an Advisory Council
While chances are that most of the people in your church do not live in your neighborhood, there may be a few who do. Discover who they are and start connecting with the neighborhood by getting their input. A group like this can be a great source of information about the day-to-day happenings on the streets and sidewalks around your campus. Additionally, it is an opportunity for those you recruit to look at their neighborhood through missional eyes. They may even be able to take on leadership roles in meeting the needs that you discover.
Know Your Demographics
Simple demographics are relatively easy to come by. Free online demographics tools, such as those available at factfinder.census.gov are great starting points for your church. There are also more in-depth studies that can be done by various companies for hire (e.g. perceptgroup.com). Take as much information in as you can, but be sure to limit it to your neighborhood or it can become difficult to target needs around your campus. Are there a high number of single parents around your church? Is the largest age group of collegiate age? Is retirement an impactful issue around you? Questions such as these can focus the church’s desire to serve towards areas where service is most needed.
Contact Your Elementary School
If churches were the centers of communities years ago, then today elementary schools are those centers. Schedule a meeting with the administration of the school or the operating PTA and ask what needs the school might have that your church could provide. Classrooms often have many needs and investing in them allows us to invest in the families in our neighborhoods. As you interact with the school, you will begin to develop relationships with the kids and families there that will open doors to influence the community all over the place.
Support Emergency Services
There are few in your community who know it’s lowest points and greatest needs better than the emergency service personnel. Find ways to support the firefighters or take a ride-along with local law enforcement. Developing these relationships can be foundational for crucial conversations about long-standing issues in your community.
Speak with Area Representatives
Whether it is your local City Planning Commissioner or your district representative in congress, there are public servants that often have a good understanding of their local areas. Take the time to set up a meeting and discuss opportunities and programs that are already going on that your church might be able to participate in. Partnerships with ongoing programs and other non-profits are some of the best ways to make a significant impact for good in our communities.
As you work to create an advisory council, research your demographics, support locals schools and emergency services and meeting with representatives to create partnerships, you are embedding your church as an integral member of your community. Make your neighbors a priority so that they will begin to see that God prioritizes them as well.