How can we help more congregational members and groups develop sustained relationships in service to the needs of others? Here are a few suggestions.
Often, committees feel the need to create programs and then are overwhelmed by the actual task. We don’t have to re-invent the wheel, especially when it comes to getting involved in social ministry projects. Existing programs abound.
Help your leaders assess the needs of the community and the talents and interests of your members. Introduce your leaders to existing programs. Support them with your advocacy and professional connections. Make financial support a line item in the congregation’s budget.
Study issues in depth
This is one advantage that churches have over secular civic groups hoping to involve their members in the community. We have a built-in learning ethic.
Gather classes and other learning events around a quest for knowledge and understanding of the root causes of hunger, poverty and violence.
Bring in front-line social workers, counselors, organizers and other experts to interact with your learning groups of all ages. (Some may be members of your congregation.) Invite your long-term, quiet servants to participate in a panel discussion to share the joys and challenges of volunteering.
Encourage action responses to what is learned. Ideas and energy to make a difference can come out of this study.
Again, churches have a leg up on this, if we take it seriously. All the current research in youth development and service learning says that personal reflection on the experience of serving others is a key to our growth as a person and our ultimate level of commitment. It’s not just kids’ stuff, though.
Regular times of sharing, reflection and prayer in response to our service experiences make an incredible difference.
Cross conventional lines that tend to separate the ages by encouraging and equipping all members to become involved in community ministry.
Adults can work side by side with youth on many projects, and both groups will be blessed. Attend to your vocabulary and make a concerted effort to stop seeing some things as “youth projects” or “women’s projects.”
Cultivate board members
Community social service organizations need talented, connected and passionate board members. You can help lift up such leaders. Their faith will be strengthened with your encouragement, and community resources can be leveraged in creative ways that only the Holy Spirit could be behind.
Having a member of your congregation serving on another board can multiply commitment to Christian service through their formal and informal interactions at church.
Share your congregation’s facilities and resources. Even things like the occasional use of office machines or tables and chairs can be a huge boost to organizations that try to focus their slim resources on direct service versus administration.
A congregation might provide a meeting room and serve coffee and sandwiches at quarterly meetings of the steering committee for their area food pantry, for example. Lavish hospitality is a mark of servanthood.
Dig through your archives and talk with elders about some of the human-service ministries that your congregation has supported in the past. Reclaim the legacy that so many churches have of reaching out in sacrificial ways to alleviate local needs. Tell the stories and spark the imagination of a new generation.
Recognize and affirm
Build in occasions within the life of the congregation to commission and thank people for their work in community ministries. Help the whole congregation identify with your partnerships with these organizations.
One congregation holds an annual yard sale and divides the earnings between a number of community ministries in the area. Special prayers are offered in worship and a coffee hour features displays and representatives of each program. Congregation members who volunteer with these organizations are there to proudly inform others of their connection.