There are many mission activities that our churches are a part of in our local communities, such as food banks , counseling centers, recreation, building housing and tutoring just to name a few off the top of my head. So, how do we decide what local missions are right for our church?I think the most important guideline for deciding can be summed up in a single phrase: Instead of being in mission to people, we need to be in mission with people.
Instead of being in mission to people, we need to be in mission with people.
In our Christian history, we have sometimes gone into the mission field with great intentions, but ended up providing services that the local people did not want. For example, some peoples felt like their way of life was being threatened by American Christians building schools that provided them with a western education. In some places, this caused such hard feelings that it ended up alienating the very people the missionaries were trying to reach. If these Christian missionaries would have taken the time to get to know the people, they would have learned what the people really wanted and needed help with, whether it be help with farming or housing or whatever. Many of the international mission agencies today have learned that lesson and now work in cooperation with the people they are trying to reach, rather than just doing things to them.
We need to apply that same lesson today when we try to reach out to our local communities. When looking for ways to reach our immediate community, we need to ask the community what it needs. That is the first step in being in mission with the people of our community rather than to them.
We can hear what our community is asking for in many ways:
- Do surveys in front of Wal-mart or other high traffic area. These can be great to get a sense of what the community desires. You can compare the community’s results to the results of your congregation. It could be very revealing.
- Get out in the community. Go to ball games. Go to town hall meetings. Meet your community and establish a relationship with good, open communications. This will help you get a feel for things. For example, we recognized the need for a recreation facility in our community, and knew that we would not compete with the city program because there were many parents that expressed the desire for a less competitive recreation environment. That helped to shape our leagues as “just for fun” leagues.
- Let statistical data help you know your community. Census data is very helpful in teaching us about out communities. A valuable resource for demographic data is www.link2lead.com.
- Take a step back and look at your community with fresh eyes. Often, a community will change while a congregation holds fast to the past. One church I visited was slowly losing people, and could not understand why. They failed to see what I saw. I saw that every sign for every business that I passed on my way to their church included both English and Spanish. The church’s sign was only in English. I knew then that they would not increase membership again until they found a way to become a part of their Spanish speaking community. We must have an accurate and current view of our community.
These are just a few steps that we can take in the process of discerning the best way to answer our call to share God’s love with those around us.
While I agree that the “to” and “with” distinction is important, for me the starting place has always been the compassion and enthusiasm of a single person (or small group).
It is amazing, isn’t it, how little we know about the community around us–even if we’ve been living here our whole lives.