Sometimes the hardest people to reach out to are those who are the closest.
“I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.” —Matthew 25:40, The Message
How does your church interact with the community surrounding it? Does everyone simply drive in on Sunday morning? Or is your congregation marked by its ability to reach out to those immediately adjacent? Sadly, many churches have pulled out of the neighborhoods they began in to acquire a more desirable piece of real estate somewhere in suburbia. The result: communities without churches who turn to the government for the relief that churches could have possibly provided
Sometimes the hardest people to reach out to are those who are the closest, and it’s just as true in our churches. But there are definitely ways to embody the Gospel to the people closest to you, especially if you are in a needy area
One great way to get involved in the community is to become an extension for local shelters. Many times, local ministries that offer hands-on help to the down and out receive more donations than they can handle. In these instances, why not develop a network of churches in the community that would become extension centers for the extra food, clothing or furniture?
We are currently praying and developing this vision. In our downtown community, a local outreach center has more donations than they can even keep track of. Yet they receive phone calls from all over the city describing needs for diapers, food, furniture and many other items. Many of these calls come from the neighborhoods immediately around area churches. So a vision has been birthed.
The hope is that local churches will create room to host the excess donations and supplies. When someone calls the shelter for diapers, rather than forcing them to go downtown, the church becomes the place to go. This, in turn, begins to create a relationship with the neighborhood and places the church in the position to meet the tangible need. And this, after all, is what the Gospel is all about.
Of course, the goal is not to simply give supplies away. The mission is about transforming lives. But many times, the first step is making the church a place that offers hope again. And meeting the tangible needs of your community is a great place to start.
Tips for starting a shelter extension:
Check Resources—Begin by discussing with church leadership possible spaces, outreach budget, etc. that might be available to you.
Check Area Ministries—It is important to find out which shelters or local outreaches are actually serving people in your neighborhood. Find out what they need to see if it is a good match. Ask these ministries how your church can be of service to them.
Enlist People—Look for people who have a heart to do this. Having a heart for the neighborhood will be vital to keeping this alive. You will also want to recruit organized people to keep track of where things are going, keep inventory and maintain records.
Get Organized—Develop a systematic approach to getting supplies to the right people. When are you open? Do you deliver? How will you inform neighborhood people about the new program? How often can someone come? How many things can they receive? The list can be daunting, but have the local shelter help you answer those questions.
Matt Conner is a writer and the pastor at The Mercy House in Anderson, Ind.