Are You In Touch With Your Community?

This month, BaptistLIFE is featuring stories about Blue Ridge Baptist Association (BRBA) churches or by BRBA pastors and church leaders. 

4 Ways to Know if Your Church is Out of Touch

“We want to reach our community!” In 24 years of ministry, I’ve never served or consulted with a single congregation that didn’t say this. But for too many churches, they just weren’t getting it done.

For many years, church leaders have attended conferences, listened to church growth “experts,” and copied strategies that were successful in other contexts in the hope that the result would be people coming to Christ and an impact on communities. But too often, the most critical piece of the puzzle wasn’t even considered.

Too many churches are implementing “strategies” that have little to no connection to their community. This is because too many churches are completely out of touch with their surrounding community.

How do you know if your church has lost touch? Over the years, I’ve observed four primary indicators.

1. The members of the congregation aren’t from the community. 
While driving through a not-yet-gentrified area of Louisville, Kentucky, years ago, we saw prostitutes on the corner, witnessed people entering the local crack houses, and sensed the obvious presence of darkness. But once we turned into the church parking lot, we saw a Lexus parked next to a Mercedes, which was in turn parked next to a Cadillac.

Those who had been members of this church for decades claimed they wanted to reach this community. But the community had drastically changed over the years, and the church members no longer lived there! They understood nothing of the poverty and addiction that surrounded them and had no personal desire to envelop themselves in the lives of “those people,” but they fully expected the community to come into a facility, structure, and approach to ministry that was totally foreign to them. If no one from your church lives in the community, it may be time to relocate your church and give the building back to believers who actually live there.

2. Church meetings don’t include substantive discussion of the community. It was a three-hour business meeting that included a lot of very important issues: What should the worship service look like? How should we structure ourselves? And of course, “who is going to be in control?” But for 180 minutes, this dying church said nothing about Jesus or the community that surrounded them.

If you spend more time analyzing the church than you do serving the community where your church was put to serve, it’s a sure sign your church is completely out of touch.

3. There is no link between church ministries and the common concerns of your community. The church was seriously considering spending $3 million on a brand new, state-of-the-art “family life center,” complete with a full-sized gymnasium, free weights, nautilus equipment, and aerobics classes. The problem was that no one had considered that there was already a $15 million facility just across the street that provided all those things already – and did so in a way the church would never be able to compete with.

Too often, churches start food pantries, ministries for single moms, recovery ministries, divorce care, financial counseling, and a thousand other things without so much as asking a single person from the community what the needs are. A church that truly serves its community listens to its community, connects community needs with its own ministries, and connects those ministries with the gospel.

4. Community transformation isn’t part of the vision. When I teach church planting courses, one of the assignments always includes the students assembling an initial strategy plan for a new church that includes community analysis, vision, mission, and an overview of the first 18 months. And I warn the students that if the vision stops with a picture of the church, they will have earned a failing grade!

Church is essential to the mission. In fact, without the church, there is no true mission! But though the church is necessary, it is not ultimate. God’s kingdom is ultimate, and the result of any effective church that is aware of its surroundings is a community that reflects more of the kingdom of God. How will the community look different ten years from now if your church is truly obedient to Jesus? If you haven’t answered that question, then whatever you have described isn’t vision. If you’ve never asked the question in the first place, your church may be completely out of touch.

Dr. Joel Rainey is the pastor of Covenant Baptist Church (CBC) in Shepherdstown, West Virginia.