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Phase 2: Discovering God’s Mission for Your Church

God created your church for a place and people

Over the years I have worked several non–pastoral jobs: waiting tables, driving trucks, teaching college courses, advising a school district, etc. I can do a lot of different things. But I don’t do everything all the time. Colleges don’t 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 church’s 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– middle–class, it isn’t a good match. Likewise, if all the college students have moved out and English–speaking 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 God’s 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, isn’t 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 church–shoppers and Christians in transition between churches, increasing numbers of people do not attend church and fall into 1 of 3 categories.

  1. The Unchurched These are people who once went to church and have quit attending. They don’t have a particular feeling about the church. It’s 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.
  2. 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.
  3. The Never–Churched 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 don’t 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 make friends 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 God’s 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:
    1. Why do you suppose people don’t go to church?
    2. and

    3. What would a church do that would excite you about attending?

    The second question gave a roundabout answer to the people’s 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 God’s 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 God’s will, however fuzzy. However, a vision without a plan is simply a pipe dream. You need to move forward to Phase 3.