3 Principles to Engage Your Community
The mid-sized city my assembly calls home has been struggling with a number of issues in the past year or so. While it has long been a haven for drug trafficking and manufacturing, the opioid crisis has really hit hard. The resulting needles scattered in the parks and streets have become a hazard. Petty crime has become rampant. Homelessness has increased significantly.
What’s worse, gun violence (previously unheard of here) has become much more common.We’ve had a number of brazen daylight shootings. These issues have been trending in other cities, large and small, as well.
All this has pressed me to ask myself (and some in my assembly) how we ought to engage with our community in light of all this. For many years, the assemblies have often been pretty secluded from the rest of society. We have been quiet about these issues; but is that the way it should be? I don’t believe so.
Why the seclusion?
What are some of the reasons we’ve been mum about issues facing our neighborhoods?
- We’ve believed that we are to be separate from sin.
- We’ve been busy preaching the gospel in our own way.
- We have tried to avoid, at all costs, anything that seems to be a social gospel.
- We, like so many Western Christians, have had a disconnect from the local neighborhood we meet in as we commute to church each Sunday.
While we could look at some examples of caring for the community we live in from the Old Testament (see the laws concerning the poor and foreigners in Leviticus, and Jeremiah 29:7, for instance), it’s best to look to Jesus.
In John 20:21, He tells us that “as the Father has sent me, so I also send you.”
The Father sent Jesus to live as a human among humans. He experienced human emotions such as grief, sadness, and joy. He interacted with the very rich and the super poor, the politically extreme left and right, and so on. He spoke into the lives of those He interacted with. He used meals, celebrations, commutes, public gathering places, etcetera, as opportunities to preach the kingdom.
So how should we engage the community about these issues?
3 Principles of engagement
- Be present in the community. Some of us have started walking around troubled areas at night to be a presence and make sure everyone is alright. That might not work for your assembly, but there are other ways we can be present. Has there been a tragedy? Attend the funeral. Is there a community event? Show up and enjoy it with them. Do people know that your assembly is there and that you care?
- Speak to the issues. If someone down the street googled your assembly’s website and listened to some of your sermons, would they get the sense that you understand what is going on in the streets around them? If we never address issues that affect them, can we really say we care? Does the sign out front with changeable messages clue people into the fact that we know what is affecting them? Along with speaking to the issues, try to speak their language. Our city has a large population of Portuguese and a growing population of Punjabis, so we’ve put messages on our sign in both those languages (and we’ve had a young Punjabi man come in because of it!).
- Foster community. If the community at large is lacking a sense of community, try building it yourself! My assembly has begun to look for opportunities to serve the community in small ways. We recently blessed a very secluded individual with yard work. We were creating community and drawing this person into it. Start a walking club. Try having a barbecue in your parking lot and go door to door to remind and invite people to eat with you. The possibilities are limitless!
As we are present in our communities, speak to the issues they face, and even fostercommunity, we will find ample opportunities to show love and multiple avenues to share thegospel in very natural ways. Let’s get going!