For many of the years I served as Executive Pastor at Brentwood Baptist Church in Brentwood, TN we were in some type of building program. This meant I spent countless hours in the City Manager’s Office preparing for various presentations before the Zoning Commission, City Planning Commission, and City Council. During one such meeting the City Manager interrupted our conversation and said, “Jim, I experienced something this week at our National City Manager’s Meeting that I think you need to know.”
He went on to share how most of one afternoon was spent “mega-church bashing.” City Managers from cities across the United States took turns telling of their frustrations with large churches in their communities. Frustrations included increased traffic and noise complaints, not paying property taxes on large swaths of prime land, and creating increased demand on city infrastructures. The consensus was that community governments needed to do everything possible to restrict the expansion of these behemoth churches.
I sat there stunned at what I had heard. What really was behind these wide spread feelings of resentment toward highly successful churches? I asked our City Manager what he thought churches could do to combat these frustrations, and I will never forget his response. He said, “Jim, the perception of local governments is that these large churches are not making a difference in their communities. The sense is that they spend vast sums on mission projects and sending members across the United States and around the world, but in comparison allocate precious few human and financial resources to meaningfully impact their community. The best thing churches can do is to make a difference in the community where God has planted them.”
I left the meeting that day vowing to explore ways to increase my church’s community impact.
Mission and Vision: Find a Need and Meet It
Bethlehem Chapel in Prague, the church where noted 15th century reformer Jon Hus preached, is known for a fresh water well that sits prominently inside the chapel. Apparently, at one point in the church’s storied history the city well was poisoned from prostitutes casting their unwanted babies into the well. With the city desperately in need of fresh water the church members took it upon themselves to dig a well within the walls of the church. As a result the people of Bethlehem Chapel were able to provide a protected source of drinking water for the city while also sharing about the living water.
In the late 1990’s five murders took place within a few weeks near an abandoned apartment complex in a downtown neighborhood in Jackson, MS. Sitting within a mile of this neighborhood was the historic First Baptist Church of Jackson, who in 1999 saw this as an opportunity to make a profound community impact. Soon the church turned the blighted apartment complex into a community center housing a medical and dental clinic, legal aid office, continuing education classrooms, a gym, and a dorm for visiting mission teams. Today, the Rosedown Neighborhood has not experienced a murder since the late 1990’s and has seen an extreme transformation through the power of Jesus working in the lives of community and church members.
Bethlehem Chapel and First Baptist Jackson, MS are examples of how an ancient and a modern congregation saw their mission and vision as addressing a practical community need as a means to also address a community spiritual need.
Six Practical Ways To Increase Community Impact
In a subsequent meeting I asked my City Manager friend for his suggestions on how to increase our church’s community impact and he provided several recommendations that any church can apply.
- Ask city and community leaders what they perceive are the communities biggest needs that the church might help address.
- Ask local school leaders what they see as the school’s most significant concerns that the church might work with them to address.
- Ask the local police and fire departments how the church can best help them.
- Ask local non-profits where they most need assistance.
- Survey neighborhoods to discover areas of need.
- Tell your story. When the church effectively ministers to the community, be sure to let the media know so the community can become aware of the church’s impact.
I believe Jesus intentionally listed Jerusalem first in his Acts 1:8 command to be his witnesses. Clearly, a church’s mission and vision cannot be separated from where God has sovereignly planted it. What unique capabilities does your church have to meet the challenges facing the community where God has placed you?
Posted on January 16, 2018