The beauty of the church is that it literally everywhere. There are roughly 50 million people in the United states who called themselves believers and attend worship on a regular basis. In fact, in the United Methodist world, there are way more UMC’s than there are McDonald’s in the country – almost three to one. And that’s just one denomination!
Each church has an opportunity to make an extraordinary difference in their corner of the world.
Our communities need us, whether they know it or not. We have an obligation to become students of the characteristics of the community around us. Here are some things every church should know about their community:
The demographics of the people around you. There are several ways to research this. It might require some financial investment or maybe your denominational headquarters has access to subscriptions or a website that helps determine the age, income, length of time living in the community, family make ups, and many other factors of people around your physical church building.
The mindset of your community. Do they consider themselves to be rural, urban, suburban, etc? Do they want to grow? Is the town alive? Struggling? Much of this is just what people believe about the community. How will you best minister to the them? What style of community is it? What is the history of the community? What has been the story of growth or decline in the last few years? How long has your church been a part of the town and the area? What are people’s impressions of the church? Do you know the flow of your community – does it surge during harvest season? Does it go crazy over sports? Hunting weekends? Is it known for certain types of businesses? Are there landmarks that everyone knows? Are the people in our town proud of what they have together?
What your community wants and needs. When our church did some research, we found out one large need was that people wanted opportunities for recreation. Since then, we have worked to create ways for people to engage in recreation in and through the church. And we have had opportunities for our church to be in recreation together. Through kids sports, adult sports, walking groups and other avenues, we have worked to attract people needing that connection. Keep an ear to the ground – what are the needs in your community? Divorce care, addiction recovery, meals provided, etc.? When you see a need, seek to meet it. Build a culture in your church of meeting needs in Jesus’ name.
The postmaster / postal workers for local branch. Every church needs to have a great relationship with the post office. In our community, the post office phone number is really similar to our church – 667-6241 vs 667-6421. As a result, we have on occasion received calls for each other and each have the number at our finger tips because of the similarity. I also usually try to take a small Christmas or New Year’s gift to each of the post office staff- just to keep the friendship going. At least for the next few years, mailings, letters, postcards and bulk mail are still going to be important to the church. It’s true, we are moving to a more digital world, but even when that becomes commonplace, an old fashioned piece of mail may become new and fresh and more widely read.
The dates for the big community events where the church can participate and serve. When a church marches in the parade, serves lemonade or helps with the annual homecoming festivities, bridges are built and seeds are planted! This requires planning and delegation, but it’s worth it.
How many people drive in front of your church building each day. Again this can either be done by a sophisticated study or your own amateur study. To do this yourself, invest five 15 minutes blocks of your day and count the number of cars that come by that hour. First block between 7:30 and 7:45 am, second block between 8:45 and 9:00 am, third block between 12:45 – 1:00 pm, fourth block between 2:45 and 3:00 and fifth block between 5:45 – 6:00 pm. Take each total and times it by 4. Take those totals add them together and multiply by 3.5 if you are in the country and 4 if you are in an urban area. That’s the approximate number of cars that travel past your church building on a regular week day.
Where the newest subdivisions and housing areas are. Keep a watch for where people are moving to. What new housing areas are being created within 5 miles of your church location. Meet them. Get addresses. Take door hangers. Get info in welcome packets. Invite.
Know the Mayor, Park and Rec people and other city leaders. When your church not only knows the mayor and other city officials, but prays for them, seeks to serve them, and stays in touch with them, the warmth of the community begins to change. Is there a chamber of commerce? Is your church part of that? Do you have a relationship with the newspaper? Know the movers and shakers in the community.
Know what grants and awards are available. In your community there may be grants available for you to grab hold of. In our little town, there is a tourism fund and each year, somewhere between $2,000 and $3000 of taxes on our city motels is awarded to our church to help support the weekend events we do. Since we are bringing in people to the community, we qualify! There may be other community grants that you can seek to receive. And you may also be able to help raise funds for certain organizations such a local food pantry or shelter.
Be on a first name basis with school administration staff. Every church needs a personal relationship with the school administration and staff. Know and appreciate the school leadership, no matter how large the districts. Be creative in ways to connect to them – invite them to the church for a free catered lunch one weekday per year. If you are working with more than one school, work to make connections through the church leadership in each school. It’s important for the schools to know that we are on their side in helping kids develop in life – and as Christ’s Church we have the most important piece to that – the spiritual lives!
Promotions / Graphic person and/or printer in your area. Every church needs to know a promotions and marketing person. You need to either have some one, pay someone or know someone who can create graphics, print banners, and take care of some image stuff. If you’re looking for a starting point, just connect with one person in your church who can organize and order items online. Any church, any size can benefit from making a great first impression through basic imprinted pens, mugs and t-shirts, and through other means as well!
Know other community resources. When someone comes to your church with a need or problem that may be beyond your scope of expertise, know who to call. Do you have a list of counselors, shelters, pregnancy centers and funds for homeless in your community and surrounding communities? Compile that list and have it ready to use.