It is important for church leaders to know why they engage in community ministry. This means churches must understand what drives them outside the church walls and into the neighborhoods, businesses, and schools of the community. When you combine the command to pray for the welfare and peace of the city (Jeremiah 29:7) and the commission to be witnesses for the gospel wherever we are (Acts 1:8), an important truth emerges: the church has a responsibility to those who are not a part of it. With that being said, ministry in our communities is difficult. Ministry in our communities can be messy. Ministry in our communities can be time-consuming. Ministry in our communities has a financial component to it as well. As a result, members of the church wonder, if only to themselves, “What are we getting out of this deal?” This question, at the basement level, is one of reimbursement.
There is a danger associated with the church expecting reimbursement from the community for ministry on their behalf. To reimburse means to “make repayment for expenses or loss incurred.” If the church sees community ministry as a loss from the very beginning then certainly there will be cries for reimbursement. If the church sees community ministry as a means to gain materially from the people then certainly there will be demands for repayment and compensation. How might a church seek reimbursement from the community?
- Filling a seat in the sanctuary. Churches may take an intentional or unintentional stance such as “we went to them now they need to come to us” stance. A common question asked by congregants is “Where are the people we have been ministering to?” The easiest measurement of ministry success is people filling a seat in the sanctuary. Although the easiest measurement, it is not always the correct measurement. Ministry is an investment. It may require multiple engagements before the gospel is understood and embraced. Churches must be comfortable with the fact that beneficiaries of their ministry may never connect to their church body. This is not easy to accept.
- Filling the offering plate. Churches may also take an intentional or unintentional stance such as “we gave to them financially now they need to give back to us”. Our world has conditioned us to expect something in return for services rendered. The old saying goes, “there is no such thing as a free ride”. This would be true if you viewed your community exclusively from the business standpoint, seeing them as consumers only. Is it true that your community may take a consumer approach to the church? Absolutely. The church has to resist the temptation to “even the books” and fully embrace the teachings of Jesus Christ where we’re reminded that to whom much is given, much is required.
Ministry in which the gospel is communicated and delivered, regardless of the acceptance of it, can never be viewed as a “loss incurred”. If there is no loss incurred then there is no need of reimbursement. Church leaders, the economic laws of supply and demand and return on investment are measured much differently in the church. Be generous. Give what you have.