What to Look for in a Church: Ministry to the Community
You can tell a lot about a church by how it ministers to its local community.
A church that doesn't interact with the community around them isn't a healthy church. It's stagnant and ignores the Great Commission.
Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age. – Matthew 28:19-20
While churches are meant to minister to those who enter their church doors, they are also called to share the good news of Jesus with those outside the church walls. This is evangelism.
Churches should provide regular opportunities for members to do outreach. As you visit churches, pay careful attention to how they minister to the local community. Use the following questions to help you determine whether they use evangelism and outreach effectively.
Does The Church Seem Outward-Focused?
Let's start by discussing the difference between inward-focused and outward-focused churches.
Inward-focused churches are those that focus primarily on those inside of the church.
Outward-focused churches focus on reaching those both within and outside of the church.
Thom Rainer explains, "Any healthy church must have some level of inward focus. Those in the church should be discipled. Hurting members need genuine concern and ministry. Healthy fellowship among the members is a good sign for a congregation. But churches can lose their outward focus and become preoccupied with the perceived needs and desires of the members. The dollars spent and the time expended can quickly become focused on the demands of those inside the congregation. When that takes place, the church has become inwardly obsessed."
So how does a new visitor know if the church is inward-focused or outward-focused?
Rainer suggests, "The true sign that a church is outwardly focused is that it is consistently doing things in the community."
Is The Church Sharing What They Have With The Community?
"Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?" And he said to him, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets." - Matthew 22:36-40
An easy way to tell if a church ministers to the community is whether or not they share what they have with the community. The church should go above and beyond with their time, talent, and treasure to bless the local neighborhoods. This is a what it means to love our neighbors.
For example, does the church seem hospitable? Would people in the community feel comfortable using the facilities? Speaking of using the facilities, does the church allow others in the community to use them (weddings, birthday parties, sports fields, etc.)?
Does the church have money in the budget specifically for community outreach projects? Are they sharing their fiscal resources? Do they use their means to help those in need in the community, such as delivering meals to the homebound or collecting turkeys at Thanksgiving for families who can't afford one?
Are They Regularly Serving In Their Local Community?
"Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?' "The King will reply, 'Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.' – Matthew 25:37-40
A healthy church is one that tries to bridge the gap between the church and the community. They look for opportunities to serve their neighbors and the community at large.
We call this servant evangelism at South Bay Bible Church, and we encourage our members to practice it regularly. Servant Evangelism is our way of demonstrating the kindness of God by offering to do some act of humble service with no strings attached.
It usually goes something like this:
"Hi, would you like a regular or diet?" (Soft Drink Giveaway)
"Oh, regular, thank you! This is so nice. I can't believe this is for free. Why are you doing this?"
We then add an invitation to church. But through these small acts of kindness, relationships with the community are born. And you've shown a neighbor the love of God.
South Bay Bible Church also offers Free Family Movie Nights during the summer as a gift for the community.
Does the church you're visiting offer these types of community events? If they don't offer events like movie nights, do they offer other ways for their church members to serve in the community (such as volunteering to help at a local street fair)?
Are They Equipping Individuals to Share Their Faith and Beliefs?
It's essential for the church to provide church members with examples of ways they can minister in their community on their own time. While serving the community is great, the church should remind members that the purpose of service is to tell others about the love of Jesus.
Therefore, the church must equip (or teach and train) members on how to share their faith and beliefs easily.
If they are out in the community showing love to others, they will likely have someone who asks them questions about why they are serving and what the church believes. These individuals need to learn how to respond with the gospel with confidence and clarity.
This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. - John 15:12