You are not essential! Most churches across the United States fell into the nonessential category during the lockdowns of 2020. Our doors were closed, in most cases voluntarily, until the reach of government grew to impose size restrictions and occupancy loads upon the phased openings around the country. Like your ministry, our church struggled with meeting the needs of the community while maintaining some sort of normalcy in ministering to our congregation. During the struggle three realities confronted my experience concerning community outreach in the pandemic.
1. Focus on Your People
Any ability to affect change or influence your community begins with your church members. They are the Body of Christ. The Power of God resides in that community. How often in the book of Acts is the term “in one accord” used? The community of your church must be healthy. For this reason, church growth is vital. If you are streaming services, prerecording, or able to have live in person services again, focus on these people. They need a pastor who is fully engaged and intentionally meeting their needs. They are not tools to accomplish a vision. They are the vision and God gave the pastor to meet/shepherd the needs of His people.
In May, I was called to the scene of an accident where two adolescent brothers slammed into the side of an SUV while riding a dirt bike. I assist our police in events like this to attempt to ease the trauma of the situation and provide answers for the families. The look of SHOCK as these family members process loss is unpalatable. The puzzle in their demeanor and lack of ability to understand or make sense of the tragedy grieves me. I am sure there is some clinical term to describe the emotion, but I can only describe the sensation as shock. I feel, our entire society is reeling from a similar dynamic. We lost six months of life. Thousands lost loved ones. Millions lost jobs. Cynicism replaced hope. We are in shock! Our people need love and shepherds. Care for your people.
Finally, refuse to accept the new normal. Our churches need to be big. I am not sure what your context is, but in Las Vegas there is a great appreciation for capacity. The more people you are influencing, the greater the resources for community involvement. Samaritan’s Purse and other large charities represent us well in national tragedies. However, the specific needs of your community are lost on national organizations. We need the church! Your church needs to grow! You need large crowds. The reach of 50 people is limited. As pastors are looking to amend their ministry model, let me challenge you to consider the local need and not substitute national relevance for personal community involvement.
2. Determine Needs
“The biggest issue in my life is my 8-year-old daughter,” said a police officer to me in early June. “She saw what happened to Shay (A local officer who was shot in the head during the riots and is now paralyzed.) She worries that her mom and I may not come home. Then she heard on the news that Nickelodeon is considering cancelling Paw Patrol because it has a police dog.” My heart broke for this officer as he relayed the emotion of his daughter to me. Within 10 minutes of hearing their plight, we planned a “Police Kids Appreciation Day” on our campus. We utilized a network of police wives to spread the word. No media was informed, no bulletins were posted, just moms on Facebook. It was huge. Uniformed officers, wives, and lots of kids showed up just to have fun. The people laughed, kids played on bounce houses, and the negative feelings left for a few hours.
This was the greatest need of the moment. When society closed, our Associate Pastor, Neal, gathered dozens of baskets of food and delivered them to elderly or ill people. We canvased a local apartment complex where a shooting happened in the midst of COVID. We offered prayers and an invitation to church. We offered a twice a week Vacation Bible School. Parents attended with their children and many came to Christ. We can still meet needs. Jesus still is the “Waymaker”. The wonderful capitalistic society we live in gives us the freedom to find and fill needs. Your community has needs too. Recently, our homeless population blossomed. We provided rides in church vehicles with police escorts and helped resource those in need. These are just a few of the opportunities we tackled during COVID.
3. Invest Today
Each of these opportunities took place from the fruit of years of investment. When my dad started Liberty Baptist Church in 1977, he and mom were in survival mode. It took 13 years to secure a non-rental facility, and even then, carrying a mortgage proved to be a step of faith. My parents pioneered this ministry. The concept of community engagement grew out of a realization that we are stake holders in this community. Two blocks east of our building was the most violent area in the city according to law enforcement. In 2013, God introduced us to some innovative cops who asked for our involvement in reducing crime. It worked! Violent crime plummeted 75% and relationships formed. Asses the ministry God gave you. Look at the community. Could you host an English as a second language class? Could you provide a place for your local representatives to share opportunities to the people of your zip code? Could you paint faces at the next community gathering? When your people are well and see the need, there is no limit to how God could use your ministry. So, start today. Find your local police Facebook page, like it, and discover where their next community event is. Introduce yourself and offer any help to the officers. Bring plenty of tracts and business cards, then drop anything to help when asked. Start today. Don’t wait for the next season. The next crisis is coming, and you want to be a resource to the people in your neighborhood. By investing today, we demonstrate the essentially necessary nature of church.
Liberty Baptist Church- Las Vegas, Nevada