Phase 2: Discovering Gods Mission for Your Church
God created your church for a place and people
Over the years I have worked several nonpastoral jobs: waiting tables, driving
trucks, teaching college courses, advising a school district, etc. I can do a lot of
different things. But I dont do everything all the time. Colleges dont
value my trucking skills. And no one wants me teaching satellite imagery interpretation
while I deliver their fried chicken dinner.
Likewise, the value of your churchs design will be determined by the people in your
community. You may well have superior design for creating a food pantry. If your
community has slowly become upper middleclass, it isnt a good match.
Likewise, if all the college students have moved out and Englishspeaking immigrants
from India have moved in, no matter how good your college ministry is, it will
not reach them. The mission field changes, and along with it, the parts of Gods
mission design he intends for us to use.
Phase 2 examines the felt needs of our community.
Why the felt needs? After all, their greatest need is Jesus,
isnt it? Yes. It is also true that No one cares what you know, until
they know you care. For most people, before they believe that the love of Jesus
is real, then need to see it in how we treat them: how we meet the needs they
already feel. The second greatest command tells us to Love our neighbors as
ourselves. As we live out that command people will become open to hearing the
rest of the Good News.
It is vital to know where we stand in the US. The percentage of people attending church
has declined for several decades. Even the strongest Evangelical churches have ceased to
grow and begun to decline. Some denominations and congregations are growing, yet the
population of the US is growing even faster, and so many of them are shrinking relative to
their communities and the nation. While there are Christian churchshoppers and
Christians in transition between churches, increasing numbers of people do not attend
church and fall into 1 of 3 categories.
- The Unchurched These are people who once went to church and have quit
attending. They dont have a particular feeling about the church. Its
simply something they can live without. They need to experience the love of Jesus to
see that Church is something more than just a club or set of religious meetings.
- The Dechurched These are people burned by the church. They have had a
painful, sometimes tragic, experience with a congregation. Abuse, conflict,
painfully irrelevant ministry, being treated indifferently or even hostilely
because of their appearance, race or lifestyle. Such people will need to know the
love of Jesus before they even contemplate returning to that place of pain.
- The NeverChurched Both people raised practicing other religions or
no religion may have no idea who Jesus is or why he might be important. Engaging them
with doctrine will rarely be a powerful as act of love done illustrating the love of
Jesus, preparing the way for discussions.
How do we learn about their felt needs? Obviously it would be best if
your congregation members are deeply engaged in relationships with people who dont
attend your church or any other. Then, out of these friendships, they can speak
authoritatively about the gaps in the lives of those outside the church.
However, my experience is that in most congregations very few have developed friendships
outside of the church or other churched people. What relationships we have can be
very shallow and leave us without an understanding of their real needs.
Obviously, one first step would be to
among those outside. As we deepen our love for them we will naturally want
to respond to their needs and, if our congregation is designed for it, minister
to them as a body. That may open up a whole new avenue for ministry, programs and
clarify Gods mission for your congregation.
Beyond this, we can study who lives in our community through various methods.
- Informal Surveys. Asking people on the street, in coffee shops,
at bus stops, etc., about the needs of the community. The one of largest churches in the
US designed its ministry based on asking people outside the church two questions:
- Why do you suppose people dont go to church?
- What would a church do that would excite you about attending?
The second question gave a roundabout answer to the peoples felt needs.
Of course, interviewing key people such as mayors, school teachers and principals,
police officers, social workers, etc. can also be helpful.
- There are also numerous data sources that will tell you the age,
income, housing, etc.
of your area. Some, like
MissionInsite (sic) or
Percept will delve deeper into the
personal values of area residents (for a price) giving your a
broad picture of needs in your community. The value of these does depend on
you having someone experienced in using these kinds of data to help you think
through the meaning of them.
Combining these felt needs: with
Gods design for your church
(phase 1) you can prayerfully and in community come to an agreement as to what
God desires your church to be and do as you see it at this time. It is a
vision of Gods will, however fuzzy. However, a vision without a plan
is simply a pipe dream. You need to move forward to