Do you want to help your church break out of the Christian huddle so you can start making a real difference in your community? Here are 12 ideas that can get you started.
By Jimmy Stewart
Living in a cloistered Christian community will ultimately fail to inspire you to go deeper—spiritually or socially. You can live in the world without being of the world—but you do need to affect the world. If it’s your goal for your church to build relationships with people who don’t look, act, dress or talk like you, these 12 ideas can get you started.
1. Buddy up with another congregation.
Build a relationship with a pastor and congregation who are ethnically or economically different from yours. Come up with ways that your churches, together, can impact your community.
2. Challenge your students.
Student pastors, encourage your kids and teens to connect with at least one new friend this year at school who’s different from them socially, economically or ethnically. Whether it’s joining an existing club, starting a student community service group or simply sitting at a different lunch table, encourage students to reach beyond their normal circle of friends.
3. Throw a neighborhood dinner party.
Ever met anyone who doesn’t like food? It’s OK to start small, but invite someone in your neighborhood you don’t normally socialize with over for dinner. Perhaps they will reciprocate or introduce you to more of your neighbors.
4. Move in.
Are you ready to take the radical step of moving to meet the needs of a specific neighborhood? Consider sponsoring someone in your congregation to live in a place to plant seeds for a future church there. Perhaps a group of college students could move into a neighborhood with the intention of making a difference, starting a Bible study and sharing Christ’s love tangibly.
5. Make music.
If you play an instrument, organize an afternoon or evening jam session in the neighborhood. Maybe you can put on a free concert with food and refreshments that can facilitate building relationships. Add a cause to the event that will benefit your city.
6. Pay attention to service providers.
Have a lawn service? Pool service? Regular restaurant server? A Christian can make a real difference by tipping well and being an encouragement to a worker having a hard day. Over time, that server may just open up to you as he or she sees your faith in action.
7. Frequent local businesses.
Patronize neighborhood businesses that are off your grid. Follow them on Yelp or Twitter. Be intentional about stopping by around a similar time every week for a year. Chances are you’ll start talking with fellow regulars on the same schedule.
8. Walk or bike for a cure.
Get involved with AIDS prevention programs such as marathon walks or bike rides that raise awareness or money for researching a cure. The typical non-involvement of believers in this arena feeds the stereotype that Christians are uncaring or disconnected regarding important social issues. How can your church show the love of Christ by joining events that benefit everyone in your community?
9. Play ball.
Organize a neighborhood soccer, softball or basketball game—or start a league in your town, if there isn’t one. Games unite people over a fun common cause and will help you chat with new people with ease.
10. Invest in seniors.
Most neighborhoods have at least one care facility for seniors. See if there’s a way that you can minister to residents and their families. Games, music, crafts, even a plate of cookies—any of these could be a door-opener.
11. Teach English.
Across the U.S., students and adults need help learning the English language. Find a place to volunteer. Or grab a friend and offer “conversational” classes in your home or church. Teaching a skill that may be second nature for you could change someone else’s life, and may cultivate a kingdom-changing relationship.
12. Get a dog.
Walk your pet through your neighborhood, take him or her to a dog park, or even organize a doggie meet-up with like-minded owners. People are more likely to start talking with you if you have a pet, especially if they have one themselves.