In light of last year’s lockdown and finally learning our neighbors’ names, it is time that we rediscover the neighborhood. We need to put some time into learning about the community that encircles where each of our churches serve. It is easy to imagine ourselves with global reach in a livestreaming age, but don’t forget the role of the local church.
I love the local church, and I love it most when the local church contends and contextualizes for their local community. The greatest impact you can make is not through a meme but local ministry.
Commit to learning as much as you can about your community.
As you do, you will learn what the needs of your community are. This is the goal of your work. One of the most important skills a pastor can hone is the ability to spot the gaps.
Research the demographics.
If you haven’t ever (or recently) done a deep dive on the numbers and demographics of your community, then commit some time in this cold winter to do so. Not only will this help you know how to serve your community, but how to actively bring diversity and inclusion to your ministry.
- U.S. Census data or similar sources, you can learn vital statistics about your community. These reports give you information like age trends, household sizes, socio-economic information, and the ethnic makeup of your community.
- City-Data.com or MissionInsite.com, can provide additional information on religious and social topics that help you discern felt needs and even best communication mediums. Get tactical and strategic about who is in your community. Post these numbers in places where your team can see them.
- If you are a Southern Baptist Church, you can request a free demographic report from the North American Mission Board (NAMB). Your state convention is also an excellent resource for this type of information. Tap into their partnership!
Get to know both your neighbors and your community leaders.
Numbers and stats are certainly useful, but there is something beneficial and impactful about hearing the stories of the people who comprise your community. Both are important as you communicate the why to church leaders, parents, and students.
- Seek out opportunities to listen to your neighbors. Set up formal interviews, mail out a survey, consistently prayer walk. When I spent some summers in Cambodia, this was the vital strategy that allowed us to connect with community members in various villages. Meet with those who dwell in your community, and ask how you can pray for them. Be willing to start the conversation.
- Seek out opportunities to listen to community leaders across disciplines. Call the superintendent’s office. Set up a meeting with a school board member. Attend the school board meetings to sit in and listen to what they discuss. Ask the mayor for a 15-minute Zoom call. Be bold! Seek out leaders in school systems, government, public health, justice officials: get snapshots across a variety of professions. Ask these two important questions:
- What are the greatest needs of our schools/students/community?
- What are your dreams for our schools/students/community?
What do to with what you know:
Connect With Existing Supportive Organizations
This may be harder for some leaders to stomach than others, but don’t recreate something that another sister organization is already doing. If the church down the street has a food pantry, don’t start a food pantry—help stock theirs. Call them, encourage them, and help fill their ministry needs. To learn more about the value of this kind of relationship, be sure to listen to yesterday’s podcast episode with Yasmine Williams. True partnership accomplishes more for your community and the Kingdom by combining efforts.
Create Only What’s Missing
There is a temptation to copy other folks’ ministry efforts. Don’t. Send your people to partner with what already exists, and then work to create what’s missing.
Stay patient. Copying happens overnight; creating what’s missing takes time. Pastorally, be patient to guide and remind your church that you are planted exactly where you are for a reason, and to make a difference.
Growth comes from insight.
Insight comes from understanding.
Understanding comes from asking great questions.
Too often we lead from where we can see. Take this season to re-center yourself inside the needs of your community and lead from there.
This content was written by Zac Workun and originally appeared inside our member community—Youth Ministry Booster—during our emphasis on local community awareness. Zac serves as the Student Ministry Training Specialist for Lifeway and is one of the co-founders of Youth Ministry Booster. He has served the local church in various youth ministry roles for over 15 years.