In his book Transforming Worldviews, Paul Hiebert wrote:
The church and believers are called to worship God, to have fellowship with one another, and to bear witness to the gospel in a lost world. Of these three—worship, fellowship, and mission—the church and believers will do the first two better in heaven. It is only the last that they can do best here on earth.
In recent years, many within the church have become aware that our mission to the world is a broad one. We are called to further the kingdom in many ways, from working for social justice to caring for God’s creation. There are many groups that do some of the things that the church does: feed the poor, advocate for justice, work for better communities. We must never forget that the unique mission of the church is to share the good news of Jesus Christ.
The apostle Peter wrote:
“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” (1 Peter 2:9)
We have been chosen to go out into the world and declare God’s praises. We’ve been sent to live our Christian lives out among non-believers rather than cloistering ourselves within the walls of our church buildings.
Too often, our churches find themselves focused inwardly rather than looking out to the world. We’re consumed with discussions about worship styles and church policies. Our mission trips are focused on providing positive experiences for our members. Our resources are spent on staff to minister to Christians, buildings to make us comfortable, and activities to entertain our members.
The first step for a church to impact the community around it is for that church to look outward, rather than inward. How do we go about that? Here are a few suggestions:
- Pray for your neighborhood and surrounding neighborhoods. Pray for those working within your community: first responders, schools, non-profits. Go on prayer walks, walking the streets around your church building, praying for the people that live and work there.
- Conduct neighborhood surveys. Go out in your community and ask what you can do to better serve your area. Find out the needs, the concerns, and the hopes of the people that live there. Ask what people would like to see from your church. Above all, listen. Listen carefully. Show that you are interested.
- Live Christ to earn the right to speak about Christ. There’s an old saying that says, “People don’t care what you know until they know what you care.” Jesus put it this way, “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). We must go into our communities with an attitude of service.
- Put your gifts into action. One of the great tasks of Christian leaders is to help church members discover and utilize their gifts. We need to help our members find ways to use what God has given them in a way that serves the community. Where giftedness meets need, that’s our calling. Christians should pray about their gifts, experiment with different ministries, then look for some combination of positive results, personal satisfaction, and affirmation from the church.
The apostle Peter also wrote:
Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. (1 Peter 2:11–12)
Our churches must look outward and find ways to live their lives out among non-believers, so that those non-believers can come to glorify God. We are the salt of the earth, but if we stay bottled up in our salt shakers, our saltiness will be in vain. Without contact, there is no impact. We must find ways to get members out of the church building in order to bring outsiders in.
In the next article, we’ll look at some practical issues that arise when working with non-believers.
Tim has recently written Church Inside Out, a book and workbook that offer a practical primer for the congregation that wants to increase its impact on the community around it. Both book and workbook are available from 21st Century Christian.