Tuesday, April 8, 2008

The “Used To” church

When I first arrived at Kingsley UMC in August of 2006 and began to go out and meet people in the community, I constantly heard about things that the church used to do. People would tell me that they used to go to that church. They remember when we used to have concerts. They used to be part of the youth program. They used to go there when they were kids. I started thinking of it as the “used to” church. We were better known for what we used to do instead of what they were doing now.

Some churches haven’t figured out that they can no longer be known for what they used to be. The decline of the church has come about mainly because after years of doing what it took to make disciples they started getting comfortable and forgetting what they were about. Instead of making disciples and growing the Kingdom we stopped being creative and began to work at keeping ourselves happy. We are quickly reaching a point where we can no longer afford to do that. Unless we refocus we will become the church that used to be on that corner, in that town or in that building.

Some of what needs to be done is we just need to let people know what we are doing. It is a real mistake to assume that people in your community know what you have going on. When I do my church welcoming workshop I send people out to the nearest locations that people would stop and ask directions at. Places like gas stations, convenience stores, the police or fire station or even people on the street that you would hope know where you are located. This is a real eye opener for many of them. Most come back and report that not one of them could identify them by name.

I have learned that I need to make connections with the local media, school districts, police and fire departments and community groups in order to reverse a trend of disconnect with the community. This does two things for me. First, it allows me to begin to learn what they see as the needs and assets of the area that they live and work in. Second, it allows me to begin to share the story of the church I serve. My job then is to help the two organizations to find ways to work together and make a difference in the lives of people.

The truth is that you don’t have to be doing a tremendous amount of work to start becoming known as a church that is doing things for your community. At Kingsley, we have made sure we take advantage of our connections with the newspapers, radio and TV stations to get our name out there when we are offering an event or new ministry. We are also doing other things to build visibility and connect by hosting community groups like the neighborhood watch, girl scouts and AA. We are doing some creative outreaches like Open Mic Night and Karaoke night in our coffee house ministry area. Signs are also a key communicator.

Last fall we started a new program after school for kids in the 1st through 6th grades we call STARS. This program provides for some help with homework and then using the arts, we help the kids learn new skills and build new friendships. They learn musical instruments, songs, drama and arts and crafts along with sign language and dance. We have had two performance nights where the community had a chance to see the kids and the kids had a chance to be the star. During our last term we had over 30 kids involved and the night of their performance we had between 175 and 180 people show up for the show. What a wonderful way to connect to the community.

This week one of the mothers of one of our “stars” called and asked if I would conduct her wedding this summer. This will give me an opportunity to connect with them during premarital counseling and the wedding in ways that would have never been open to me before. People are beginning to come to us with ministry ideas and opportunities. It is an exciting time.

Every week we have visitors to one of our three very different services that we offer as a result of our work to connect with the people of our community. Some will stay and others will continue to look for their faith connection in other places but we have had an opportunity to touch their lives here. It has been a long time since I heard the words “that is the church that used to” and now I hear people talk about what we are doing or refer to it as “the church that always has something going on in it.”

What is your church known for?

No comments: