Taking Church to the Community

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How can everyday places in your neighborhood become sanctuaries where people receive blessing? Increasingly, churches find they can extend their spiritual presence beyond their own walls by taking worship, teaching, prayer, and blessings into their communities in novel and creative ways.

The idea is simple. Go to the places where people already are, rather than expecting them to come to you.

Connecting with the Spiritual Needs of the Religiously Unaffiliated

A growing segment of our population is religiously unaffiliated and disconnected from the institutional church. Pew Research has identified a growing cohort of people they call the “nones” — those who do not identify with any religious tradition and state their religious preference as “none.” One in three adults under thirty falls in this category.

The church often has dismissive attitudes toward the people we call “unchurched.” We imagine them irreligious or spiritually apathetic. But people outside our churches are often more spiritually minded than we think. Pew Research found that two-thirds of the “nones” believe in God, more than a third say they are “spiritual” if not religious, and one-in-five say they pray every day.

Yet most will never step into a church building. Some say they feel unwelcome. Others have been hurt by the church or are afraid of commitment. So how can we reach them and bless them and assure them of God’s love and acceptance?

Extending the Church’s Spiritual Presence beyond its Walls

Rather than waiting for such people to come to church, many congregations are finding ways to take church to them through offsite worship opportunities. One church in Missouri holds its Ash Wednesday services in a local coffee house. Another in Texas does its Palm Sunday services in a local park. And a church in Tennessee plans and leads a series of off-site Christmas Eve services in nursing homes, hospitals, restaurants, bars, and sports facilities.

Some churches orchestrate special liturgically-themed events beyond their walls — a live nativity display with choirs singing Christmas hymns at the local shopping mall or a “Blessing of the Animals” at the local dog park or pet store. Others hold vacation Bible schools in community parks or Bible studies at Starbucks.

The idea is simple. Go to the places where people already are, rather than expecting them to come to you — places that are known to them, where they feel comfortable. But whatever you do must be done well and with enthusiasm.

Times of Spiritual Receptivity

Much of this outreach capitalizes on the heightened receptiveness to spiritual engagement around religious holidays. At Christmas, Easter, and other special days, many feel the tug of deeply engrained religious memories. Even those generations removed from the church somehow long to be connected to the traditions of the faith. An additional advantage is that novel forms of community outreach around the holidays can generate positive publicity for your church since reporters and local news stations are often looking for religiously-themed stories around the holidays.

But the reason for doing this goes beyond the hope that it might draw people into our churches. It must start with a sincere desire to build relationships with our neighbors and bless them in ways that are welcoming and comfortable to them.


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About Author

Ann A. Michel is associate director of the Lewis Center for Church Leadership of Wesley Theological Seminary and teaches in the areas of stewardship and leadership. She is also the author of Synergy: A Leadership Guide for Church Staff and Volunteers (Abingdon, 2017), available at Cokesbury and Amazon.


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