By Dean Inserra
“What is this church doing for the community?”
In our nine years as a church, I’ve found this to be one of the most commonly asked questions by Christians, mostly millennials, who visit our church.
This is a fair question and churches should have an answer. But the answer shouldn’t simply be a list of events. Instead, the answer should include how your church and its members are developing a growing number of relationships and consistently meeting long-term needs.
At City Church Tallahassee, we’ve discovered the most effective things a church can do for the community can rarely be put on a calendar. They are not events or “serve days,” but rather are accomplished through relationships, taking time to establish, and occurring over a long-term commitment.
While having the entire church show up in matching T-shirts to paint the local homeless shelter is inherently a good thing, we’ve discovered the most effective influence happens after the picture is posted on the church’s Instagram.
What we’re doing for the community at our church is encouraging our members to join life in our city where it’s happening, and invest long term in areas of need where they find their passions. The goal for our church from the very beginning has been to “decentralize” ministry in the community.
We still coordinate various organized efforts throughout the year to meet some basic community needs. But a healthy church is one where the members aren’t asking, “What are we doing for the community?” because they are already on mission in the community.
Long impact takes time, personal relational investment, and can be messy. When folks ask what the church is doing, we quickly turn it around and ask what they are doing. The truth is, people who call our church their home are serving frequently and it is a real treat, as the pastor, to hear about it.
So how is our church serving the community?
Some of our church members have dinner with homeless friends on a weekly basis. Others have single moms over for dinner and babysit for free. Church members tutor weekly at local underprivileged schools, and volunteer at the Boys and Girls Club.
One church family started a non-profit foundation to love and support families with children affected by life altering disease. One of our church small groups had a heart for that type of ministry, and when they heard about the foundation our church member was starting, they decided be part of it. They now volunteer as a small group on a regular basis with the organization.
Another one of our small groups is plugged in at the Florida Baptist Children’s Home, and others work with local high schools, pregnancy centers, mentoring organizations, and have all built relational trust that most importantly leads to gospel conversations.
The investment in a local high school by several dozens of church members has led to faculty, administrators, coaches, and students now coming to our church. We have been given tremendous access to the school as a result.
If we declared a “serve the school day” once a year, it wouldn’t be as effective as what happens when our own members take it upon themselves to invest their lives where there are needs.
The prophet Jeremiah wrote to the exiles in Babylon to seek the welfare of the city (Jeremiah 29:7). He encouraged them to accomplish this through marriage, building homes, planting gardens, and living their lives faithfully in a godless culture.
We’ve seen the results that take place when local compassion ministry goes away from the church bulletin, and into the hands of church members.
They find areas of need, which speak to their passions, and invest their lives for the gospel and city, seeking its welfare for the glory of Christ and His mission.
Dean is the founding and lead pastor of City Church in Tallahassee, Florida and author of The Unsaved Christian: Reaching Cultural Christianity with the Gospel.