I admit that “must” is a strong word—and there are few things that I’m emphatic about unless they are biblical, but I do believe that in order for us to reach people today we have to get outside the walls of our church buildings. That means we must do something intentional to make that happen. The community has to know—and believe—that we really do care for them. For me, being a community builder makes sense—and seems most effective.
And we do love our community already, don’t we?
I certainly hope so. We believe we have the hope for the world as our central teaching. The Gospel is not to be a hidden truth but the light in the city on the highest hill. That means we must take our light into the world.
So the fair question to follow a post like that is how do you do it? How can a pastor—or ministry leader—be a community builder?
1. Get to know key leaders of your community
I think you should know who the leaders in your community are and know as many of them personally as possible. You may not be able to know the mayor of your city, depending on the city’s size, but could you get to know your local council representative? Could you know a school board member? You’ll be surprised how receptive many politicians are when constituents contact them—especially a leader who has an audience with a significant number of people. (And anything over an average household can be considered significant.)
Let me be clear that I never endorse candidates in my official capacity, but I do vote, and it’s amazing when you’re active in the community how many people in your church want to know who you support.
2. Listen to concerns
Wherever you are, wherever you go, whatever you do in the community—whether at city hall, a school meeting or the grocery store or barbershop, listen to hear the things people are talking about around you.
If you hear repeated themes, you can almost guess that’s an issue on people’s minds. If you aren’t hearing anything—ask. Actually, ask anyway. Don’t listen for what you want to do or where your church is already serving. Listen with an open mind to the real concerns of people. You may have different answers than they’ve thought of before. You know how to organize people. You represent people you can organize. That’s a powerful combination when addressing community needs.
3. Love what they love
I’m specifically talking about loving the culture of the city. I’ve seen pastors bash their community online. That’s foolish in my opinion. You can talk against community concerns in a way to rally support for a cause without bashing the community.
People often feel about where they live—especially if they grew up there—the way they feel about their family. They can say bad things about them, but you better not. Here’s where I’ll get the most disagreement—to me, this also includes loving the traditions they love—including their local sports teams.
God has called me to reach people in my community, and I’ve discovered they love that I’m willing to learn their unique culture and explore and enjoy the uniqueness that is “my” community. I’m intentionally trying to love the people to whom God has placed me to minister—and part of that as I would do for any family member—is learning to love the things they love.
4. Learn about the community
Most communities have some way to learn about them. Often they’re found connected somehow to the local Chamber of Commerce or equivalent. You can also sign up for any local tours that the community offers. If the town is too small for anything like this, make appointments with people who are known in the community for their years of service to the community. Go prepared with questions and pick their brains about the community. Volunteer at the city’s visitor center. Do this to give back, but also to get even more familiar with the city and what it has to offer.
5. Build your community network
You never know when you’re going to need it. Plus, there will always be people you may not know, but people in your network will know them. I’m consistently asking people to connect me with people I should know in the community. And that’s in all sectors of the community. Don’t limit your network to those society considers influential.
6. Serve somewhere in the community, besides your church
I think this is critical in community building, but also simply the right thing to do. As pastors, we expect people from the community to serve in the church. It’s only fair for us to give back to the community that is giving to us. Plus, we need to lead the way so that others in the church will serve in the community also. It’s also the best way to meet people who need the hope that we have to share.
7. Lead your church to be community builders
This begins with a general desire to see the people of the church investing in the community. But it won’t happen by accident. It takes the intentionality of teaching and serving by example. Most of all it takes consistency. This isn’t something we do in a campaign once a year. This must be a lifestyle—getting the church into the community—being community builders—so we can eventually be Kingdom Builders.
Become aware of how your community views itself. What is it passionate about? What are things that you’re doing, where you could be joining them and partnering with them instead? Serving our communities is important. But I wonder if serving “with” our communities is even more important.