"Moving-In" Better Than "Driving-In"
Our neighbors can't be expected to go into a building that appears unwelcoming, like many of our churches. Some look like a medieval fortress and are about as inaccessible. (For example, is the actual entrance to your building clearly marked?) The job to be done by individuals in our communities is likely not, "I want to be churched! Show me the way." I do think our neighbors are trying to get the following jobs done one way or another: "I want to feel hopeful. I want to be treated with dignity and respect, and aspire to a life of spiritual meaning. I need to ensure the safety of my family, have opportunities for meaningful work, and a sense of joy and peace in my community." I wonder what would happen if instead of arbitrarily excluding our neighbors as outsiders, we intentionally provided ways for these kinds of jobs to get done through our worship, witness, and mission? It starts with listening and walking across the street.
Our neighbors notice people driving in and entering our church buildings one day a week, or maybe two. Actually it doesn't matter how many times a week people drive in. Neighbors see us driving in, then driving away. Community-facing ministries including food and clothing distribution, youth programs, or other needed and welcomed services are offered seasonally, or multiple times each week. The point is that the community residents still observe people they don't know, drive in and then drive away like so many weekday commuters. Its tough to build successful and sustainable relationships of meaning when we drive in.
One example of a faith-based organization building sustainable community wellness is found in Portland, Oregon. Compassion Connect is partnering with other non-government organizations and faith partners in the community to build the entire neighborhood's health and wellness through programs like the Apartment Complex Initiative and Compassion Clinics. Located in the communities served, impact is authentic and effective. Local churches can align their worship, witness, and mission by investing relationally in the lives of neighbors, creating a holistic sense of community (See Apartment Complex Initiative Companion).
A congregation in which more of the active participants drive-in from a distance versus those who have moved-in and live in closer proximity is at risk of becoming a stranger in their community. God has moved in. Mission proximity matters. Move in and make positive love-in-action changes within your neighborhood.
God's story states that, "God moved into the neighborhood" (John 1:14). This describes the incarnation (God, a spirit, becoming flesh and blood), when God became fully human in Jesus by moving in (not driving in) to our real world. This residency model of Jesus is incongruent with our driving in church behaviors.
Begin this week to become more resident to your community. You can start with the following homework. Let me know when your church is "home" again, and when you are, the community will truly notice and be blessed.
- Recall a time when you felt more "at home" in your church's neighborhood? What contributed to those "at home" feelings? What changed?
- Explore the circumstances when your church was established at your current location. Try to understand why "this" neighborhood was chosen over so many other options.
- Read a copy of your church's charter. Why was your church established?
- A few months ahead, choose a worship service designated: "(Name of your town) Sunday." The worship focus of the gathering is to celebrate God's blessings and the community's many assets.
- In small groups, collect lists of community assets. Consider domains represented in your community: Faith-based organizations, volunteer groups, businesses, local government, health care, media, arts, parks, schools, libraries, etc. With a spirit of gratitude, identify gifts that bless your community. Don't forget to add your own chruch to the list! Celebrating community gifts can inspire a deep re-connection and restore not only a feeling of "at home" for you, but for your congregation.