Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: I emphasize in all four of my most recent books, that churches must stop guessing about community needs and actually go out, exegete the community and ask people about their needs. Here are some great ways to do this written by Kate Riney for Facts & Trends.
By Kate Riney, Facts & Trends, LifeWay, 7/28/16.
To reach the lost and broken with the gospel, each church needs to be aware and reflective of its community’s assets and needs. Here are five ways your church can do that.
1. Take a walk and talk.
Map out a radius around your church based on how concentrated the population is in your area. For urban churches, tackle the 2- to 3-block radius of your church location. For more suburban or rural churches, you may want to take a 2- to 3-mile walk or drive.
Walk around the area with staff leaders and key volunteers. Meet people hanging out at the bus stop, coffee shops, local eatery, the gym, etc. Ask these people about their lives and take notes. Get to know them and the challenges they face.
Try to take on the posture of a missionary who has recently arrived on the mission field. By starting without assumptions, you’ll be better prepared to hear some surprising revelations…
2. Identify community assets.
As you walk, take note of medical facilities, homeless shelters, day cares, schools, libraries, different types of housing (high-rise apartments, single-family homes, public housing, mobile homes, etc.), religious and civic organizations, public transit, gas stations, grocery stores, shopping malls, green space, recreation facilities, etc.
Next, identify these assets on your map. Look first for assets, second for patterns, third for needs…
3. Assess community needs and begin developing your strategy.
Perhaps there are no grocery stores in your church’s area, only corner stores. Maybe you could offer a farmer’s market in your parking lot to bring quality, nutritious food to the local residents. Are there many day cares, but mainly overcrowded or underfunded preschools?
Consider starting a church school for all those tots about to age out of day care. If the area lacks public transit, the church might offer a shuttle ministry to allow more people to attend worship services and church events…
Many elderly people may live in an assisted living or retirement community you’ve never noticed. They might love to be a part of your church family if the opportunity is available…
4. Filter and prioritize.
…Some initiatives will be simpler than others to start, and you may find you can easily implement two or three projects at once.
Outreach projects are best started one at a time, usually one a quarter. Try to stagger launch dates so the community isn’t confused by an onslaught of announcements and invitations that pull their focus in different directions.
5. Begin setting or redefining your church culture.
… As you assess the community and begin implementing your findings, know that the DNA of your church will naturally change ..
If your church truly desires to reach the lost, and grow and send disciples, then you need a clearly defined mission, vision, values, and strategy based on the community you serve. You cannot lead those to a life in Christ without knowing their unique needs and gifts.