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Is going to your church worth the walk?

Walk To Church For Shoes at Emanuel Presbyterian in Newark. (Photo: Rolnand Perez)

Walk To Church For Shoes at Emanuel Presbyterian in Newark. (Photo: Rolnand Perez)

Is going to your church worth the walk? There many reasons to walk, and many reasons to go to church. I bet you haven't thought to walk to church for shoes. Here's a story about a church that decided to help the neighborhood get an important job done… (See my recent blog post about the Jobs To Be Done framework: Hello community! We can get your jobs done!)

Emanuel First Hispanic Presbyterian Church congregation was energized when they realized their rather ordinary, ineffective, Everybody Is Welcome campaign produced few results. Instead, they considered their neighbors' needs. They essentially tried to answer the question, "What jobs do our neighbors need to get done?" Instead of looking at their out-reach as a way to get people into church, they came to see that addressing what their neighbors needed was fundamentally more a more authentic, and effective, way of showing God's love outside.

One job parents needed to get done was acquiring good shoes. Kids needed shoes for school. Moms and dads needed shoes for work. And for those that already had a closet full of shoes, they needed something better to do with surplus shoes then take up space in the closet.

The Jobs To Be Done model does not focus on the product the organization has to offer, but at understanding what specific jobs are needed to be done by the customer/consumer.Shoes.

The Walk To Church For Shoes project offered good condition shoes for free at their corner in Newark. Want to get a clearer understanding of the Jobs To Be Done idea? Let's use Emanuel's Walk To Church For Shoes as a short case study.

What is your congregation's mission proposition? To get at that answer, let's consider two underlying questions.

  1. What are you offering in exchange for the time the community invests with you and your ministry? In other words, what do you help someone do, in exchange for their time with you? Sure, you may say, there are general spiritual needs every person has, but most people are not looking to get that job done. They are looking for something else. If you can identify and deliver the specific tasks and things a person is looking to get done, you are already earning the right to do more. Offering only what you have, when the recipient is looking for something else, is fundamentally a disconnect that is hard to remedy.
  2. What outcomes do you expect from your ministry? How will you know you achieved those outcomes? Besides the initial perplexed look on church leaders' faces when first considering this line of thought, I keep asking questions about the behaviors they do, and the outcomes they expect from those behaviors. Often, their behaviors are conflicted, sometimes negating the net effects of otherwise good messages.

When I do this kind of analysis with congregations, I invite them to think more deeply about their behaviors, and actions. What are they actually doing, when they are doing their ministry. For example, consider the church's sign board on the building or front lawn. What message does the sign convey? Is the information updated and relevant to those who invest their time to read it? Can passers by read it at all, given the style and point size the letters are displayed in? Does your sign essentially say, All Are Welcome? In fact, is everyone welcomed? Really? And does the sign represent at least a hint of what your church is willing to give in exchange, in reciprocity, with those who attend your services promoted on the sign board?

Inviting responses to these kinds of questions can provoke generative conversations. Responses can also be disruptive to the church's status quo. Don't resist this important disruption because it can lead to a readiness to change and grow.

As a result of Emanuel's Walk to Church For Shoes, new families became involved, and hundreds of people were blessed.

Emanuel Presbyterian Church is celebrating ten years of ministry on Sunday. I am grateful for Pastor Rolnand Perez and his leadership team. With Walk To Church For Shoes, they are taking the community's needs seriously.

Your church can have the same kinds of thoughtful conversation about ministry, community, and the outcomes you believe God has called you to achieve.

If people walked to your church looking for what they needed, would they find it? If its shoes they need, tell them about Emanuel Presbyterian in Newark, New Jersey. Its worth the walk.

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Can Church Be Healthy If Community Isn't?

Community and Congregational Health: 
What’s the Connection?

Expecting a donation of money since he could not work, a man needed to make a change in his life. More importantly, he was ready for change in his life. His pattern included seeking donations in the plate, but these gifts, even generous ones, did not ensure a sustainable future. Who would have been able to offer the intervention he needed? Though this story could be relating an actual occurance I observed last week. It's the apostle Peter’s experience with a disabled man at the Beautiful Gate of the Jerusalem temple in the first century impressed historian Luke so much so that he gave this story prominence (Acts 3:1-6). It’s a favorite story of mine.

In Acts, Peter embodied, and even extended, the very ministry of Jesus as recounted in Matthew’s gospel when the tax collector reports that, “People brought anybody with an ailment, whether mental, emotional, or physical. Jesus healed them, one and all.” Could that be said of your church? Peter saw the inextricable link between spiritual health and physical vitality. A wholeness of body, mind, and spirit leads to a sustainable and hopeful future.

We offer what we have. The man received what he needed. He got up and walked! A few coins would get him through the day. Two strong legs would now get him to a job for a lifetime.

As faithful and eager as the church is to focus on spiritual concerns, we have a long way to go to practice the theological convergence of spiritual, emotional, physical, and public wellness. Often regarded as an unmentionable topic in church and governing body conversations, our individual and corporate mental health, and its advocacy, is mission critical for a missional church to be a compassionate blessing in the world.

I believe Newark Presbytery’s churches are increasingly poised to intentionally, humbly, and authentically become an agent of community wholeness, not merely an example of it. How's your team doing? Congregations can choose to promote community wellness and wholeness, not just in being generous with funds placed in a plate, but helping people walk in the newness and in the fullness of life. We must address the fragmentation our communities, and churches, experience.

Healthy communities self-correct. Healthy communities make for healthy congregations. What can our churches do? More of what we are already doing! And much more.I will post a few missional ideas for your leadership team and congregation to explore. I hope you find them helpful.

What has worked for you?