There is a movement in the food industry to shop locally and buy food grown locally. In fact, there are whole restaurants dedicated and capitalizing on this movement. The idea is that by supporting local economy and locally grown food, sustainability within a community rises.
In the context of church life, churches are looking at declining membership, declining growth, and declining interest in religious organization; ministering locally is the key to sustainability. Focusing on ministering to communities within a five to ten mile radius of the church transforms the church from a religious organization into a center of the community.
So why haven’t more churches invested in a philosophy of ministering locally? Most churches are no longer neighborhood churches. Although churches are often located within neighborhoods or close to neighborhoods, the majority of their membership no longer comes from those neighborhoods. Instead the number of people who drive more than ten miles to church outweighs the number of people who are within a five to ten mile radius.
Churches that have existed for eighty years or more have seen vast changes in their neighborhood demographics and these changes aren’t always what the kind of people the church wants coming through their doors. While the message from the pulpit might be about how Jesus welcomed the stranger, the message of the security guard and locked doors speaks loudly that Jesus might have said, but the church certainly doesn’t want those who are hungry, naked, and in need wandering in off the streets.
Ministering locally means assessing the needs of the community within which the church resides and meeting those needs by connecting those in need to resources within the church or resources within the community. This is how church used to be and how church still is in rural communities. People would go to the church for help in times of crisis, but now it’s hard to even find someone who is willing to listen to a need in churches.
By forgetting to look and see our neighbors in need, we are forgetting what it means to be church. Church doesn’t exist to serve its members. Church exists in order for people to come together to transform a community through service. By serving those in need, the members of the church become transformed themselves. Not only do we find ourselves in an era of church life where we don’t seek transformation, we also find ourselves in an era of church life where we don’t even want to be challenged or any kind of change.
As churches continue to serve their members, churches’ life spans will continue to decline.
Give hope to your neighbors in need and guarantee a future for the church.