Posted by: meettheneed | June 15, 2010

WHY AREN’T CHURCHES DOING MORE TO SERVE THEIR COMMUNITIES?

It wasn’t that long ago that the local church was the “center of town”. Look at small town America. Look at cities all over Europe. Churches were built to be a place of refuge and help, not only a place of worship. As people in need came to the church, they also found hope. The church was the spiritual and cultural hub of the city.

And people gave to the church not because they wanted to see a bigger building. They knew much of the money they gave would go to help the poor.

Today, there are a lot of church cynics. People who think the church is about collecting tithes. They don’t think the church cares. They think it’s full of hypocrites. They think all pastors care about is growing a bigger church. They can’t see God’s love because they haven’t clearly seen ours. They don’t see us reaching out so they believe we’re all about bringing (money and people) in.

The reality is that the church does care. Christians care. The problem is not a lack of desire, it’s an inability for our churches to understand and communicate the needs in the community to the members of the churches. Church members have the ability to help local families and ministries, but they don’t know where those abilities are needed. The church isn’t providing a window to the outside world from inside the 4 walls of the church. Not because it doesn’t want to but because it can’t. There are just too many needs and too little staff…until NOW! Yes, that was a teaser….keep reading!

Back on the topic of church growth, the irony is that service is the ultimate church growth model. The best church growth plan was the first church growth plan – from Acts. It was about healing, feeding and selling all they owned to help those in need. It wasn’t having a top-notch worship band or the most inspirational sermons. Those all helped then and help now too, but demonstrating God’s love rather than talking about it is far more powerful. Like the old adage says, “Preach the gospel at all times – If necessary, use words.”

I spent my business career in strategy consulting to Fortune 500 companies, primarily focused on Customer Relationship Management. What we taught large corporations about how to grow was the same lesson that applies to churches. If you’re too focused on what’s happening inside the organization, then you’re dying. As soon as your focus turns outward, then you’ll thrive. Bureaucracy, politics, fixing processes, making things run smoothly are all part of organizational life – but the more we can look beyond them to serve the needs of our customers or our community, the faster we’ll grow.

Beyond all that – it’s what Jesus did. Jesus knew that people often can’t see past their physical needs to even think about their spiritual needs. He knew He had to meet them right where they were. That’s why Jesus (almost) always met a need before He told them who He was. He fed, healed or counseled those in need (e.g. the woman at the well) – then He told them He was the Son of God.

Yet our churches more often than not do the opposite. We tell them about Jesus first. We come up with creative evangelism and outreach programs to draw people into our church and lead them to Christ. I once heard a pastor talk about a new outreach program he called “sign evangelism”. As an outreach-minded person who knew that this church was not active in serving the community, I thought, “This should be interesting”. The pastor explained that “sign evangelism” would be taking place next Friday after work, consisting of putting signs inviting people to church on street corners all over the city! Our outreach was advertising! Ok, that was an extreme case, but hopefully it illustrates the point.

Not to get too dramatic, but it’s also interesting to note that the words “ministry” and “outreach” have been hijacked. I’m not sure who’s the culprit, but the original meanings of the words are definitely MIA. “Ministry” used to mean serving and evangelizing. If you ask a church today about their “ministries”, they’ll talk about the Women’s groups, Men’s groups, ushers team, greeters team, etc. Ministry somehow came to mean “inside” the church. Likewise, outreach used to mean helping those in need. Now it means recruiting members to come to your church. Outreach Magazine is full of creative programs, materials and tools to make your church look more attractive. If you use the term “outreach management software” today, churches think you’re talking about a system to manage and communicate with your members. What happened to the meaning of “ministry” and “outreach”?

Somewhere along the way, another “hijacking” took place – the idea of the church as the primary source of help for those in need. Today, the church is not a first thought or even a second one. Government is. But unfortunately the government can’t provide hope. Not to get too political, and I’m certainly not saying that the church abdicated that role. But I’m also not saying that the government usurped that role from the church without its knowledge or against its will.

The point of all this is that the church NOW CAN and should step back up to reclaim its position as the “center of town”. People have real needs. And we’re missing so many chances to step up and show them who Jesus is. In fact, there have been several “movements” in that direction over the years:

• Many books about getting out of the “4 walls” and “unleashing” the church
• Countless articles and speeches about being the hands and feet of Jesus, mobilizing the members and other catchy phrases
• A lot of well-intentioned pastor meetings to talk about church unity
But the problem is no one has ever “operationalized” those movements. Everyone leaves those pastor meetings feeling excited, but when the day-to-day reality of “unleashing”, “mobilizing” and “unity” is e-mails, phone calls and spreadsheets, the meeting winds up being little more than a “pep rally” and some good networking.

The core issue here is that the needs in the community are just too numerous. Churches don’t have enough staff to filter all of those needs and put them in front of members, enabling the members to find the opportunities that fit their skills and interests. And the pastors and staff certainly don’t have the ability to make sure their members make good on their promises to help, or to collect testimonials so they can report back to the church and get others excited about stepping up to serve the community.

Because churches can’t get their arms around all the local needs, church members don’t know what they can do to help. What if a plumber, a retired businessman, a single mom, or a nurse wants to volunteer? What if a family of four has stuff in their garage and wants to give it to someone in need, not just drop it off somewhere, get a receipt and head home?
When a person asks their church what they can do to serve, what do most pastors or staff members tell them? A typical answer is “sure, we need ushers, we need greeters, or we need folks to watch the nursery on Sunday morning”. The person would respond something like, “That’s not what I mean – I’m talking about that sermon the pastor gave last weekend about serving the poor – I’m talking about that verse I read in Matthew today where Jesus talking about helping the least of these.” At a typical church, the response would be, “sure, we have a backpack drive in a couple months for underprivileged kids when they go back to school”, or “we’re doing a feeding for the homeless at Thanksgiving, and a party for some families at Christmas”.

Or the church would refer that person to a local ministry that does the kind of work they’re interested in – youth, homeless, elderly, etc. (By the way, on a side note, it’s interesting that those organizations are commonly known as “parachurch” ministries. Most were founded by churches – and churches had close connections to them, at least for a while. Now local ministries are just hoping that 2 or 3 local churches will provide a little bit of money and a few volunteers to keep them going. Where did the disconnection occur?)

Shouldn’t the church have answers for where that person can serve the community? Shouldn’t churches have a window providing a view to the needs OUTSIDE the church?
Again, I’m not accusing anyone of anything – I know the Christ-followers care! The heart and desire is there – from the pulpit and from the pews. But the means to make it happen isn’t. If the opportunities to serve the community were put in front of church members, they would respond. But the church can’t so the members can’t! As a result, churches settle for occasional events. Unfortunately, the needs don’t stop when the event ends! And that’s where our churches run the risk of just “checking the box”…

BUT NOW, there is an answer. In fact, the answer has been in the business world for a long time. Business processes and technologies, if brought to this problem, make possible what was not possible before. Meet The Need has spent the past 10 years figuring out how to apply Business Intelligence and Customer Relationship Management, which are all about understanding, valuing and connecting with people, to:

• Take all of the work off the church staff
• Put opportunities to serve in front of members
• Let members figure out what they can do based on their skills, interests and stuff collecting dust in their garage
• Show pastors and staff the impact the church is having in the community

Imagine church members and visitors seeing a constantly changing flow of needs in the community showing up on every church’s web site. Imagine your members being able to sign up to serve local ministries and families through your web site, with no clue that another organization is making that all possible “behind the scenes”. Imagine the community seeing the local church more active in serving and loving them. How would that affect their view of the church, and more importantly, God?
What if the organization behind this solution were a non-profit whose objective was solely to see a radical transformation in the perception of the church from being about inflow to outflow? What if it were an organization funded by wealthy Christian men and woman who desired nothing more than to see that radical transformation take place – and therefore didn’t need to charge churches more than a nominal membership fee, no more than one person’s drop in the offering plate on a given Sunday each month?

We’re not talking about a centralized clearinghouse. Those are too staff intensive and too impersonal. We’re talking about a customized solution for each and every church running through the church’s web site, showing only the needs the church wants to display to its members, and providing a complete report back to pastors about the impact their church is having in the community.

There are so many people in our church pews and chairs. There are 360,000 churches in the US alone – millions who could and would do a little more if the church could point them to the opportunities to apply their God-given talents, abilities and belongings.

It can happen now. Each church can have window to the outside world from within the “4 walls”.

http://www.meettheneed.org

Posted by: meettheneed | October 29, 2008

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