In part one of this series I spoke about the available ministry options for churches, limitations, and the need to focus precious resources on what matters the most. In part two I highlighted the first of two common ministry models: event-driven ministry. Today, community-driven ministry. I’ll place my proverbial “ministry cards” on the table here. I believe the overall ministry of a church should be driven by a concern and care for the community in which the church is planted. This concern should serve as the basis for all the church does for God’s glory.
The prophet Jeremiah ministered during a dark and difficult time in Israel’s history. His message of hope and confidence must have been hard to hear considering their captivity. His centuries-old words to Israel are worthy of the church’s attention today. He wrote, “Seek the peace of the city where I have caused you to be carried away captive, and pray to the Lord for it; for in its peace you will have peace” (Jeremiah 29:7). He spoke of the Lord’s placement of His people and their proper response to that placement. Essentially, God told them to be concerned about the welfare of the city that was holding them captive. A revolutionary thought for sure.
In the community-driven ministry model, churches perform an exegesis of the community. Simply, the church performs a thorough analysis of its community. from this analysis, a community’s history, needs, hurts, goals, strengths, and weaknesses are discovered so ministries can be tailored to make the most impact. The church reads out of the community asking, “How can we help you?” instead of reading into the community saying, “This is how we are going to help you.” Why is this important? Not all communities are the same. Different communities require different strategies and methodologies to be reached. The ministry that flow from the traditional downtown First Baptist Church will look different from the inner-city church plant in Detroit or the Cowboy Church in Cheyenne. The ministry that flows from the rural county church will look different from the suburban church plant that meets in an elementary school. Why go to all this trouble? When a church studies the community and takes the time to understand it, the message received by the community is they matter. The message to the community is their uniqueness matters. The church cannot seek the peace of the city until they know how their community is conflicted.
In part two, I shared some of the challenges the event-driven ministry model churches may experience. The community-driven ministry model has its own challenges.
1. Community-driven churches will need to have the “we are not doing as much as other churches” discussion. It easy to allow another church’s activity and busyness to become our standard. Activity does not equal life change. It is here the church must choose deep over wide. Allowing someone else to chart a church’s ministry course is harmful. A community-driven church may not appear as busy as an event-driven church. That’s okay. It is more important to be fruitful than busy.
2. Community-driven churches will need to have the “this is not very glamorous” discussion. When a church thoroughly analyzes their community and discovers hurts, needs, and obstacles, the corresponding ministry may be messy and long-term. It’s not easy. The church must have the understanding that nice, neat, and uncomplicated ministry to community is not the normal.
3. Community-driven churches will need to have the “we are not seeing any physical results” discussion. We live in an on-demand, results-based society. When it comes to properly caring for its community, the church would be well served to view their ministry efforts as a long-term investment rather than a short-term fix. A community-driven church must understand the results of its labor, sweat, and love may not be seen this side of eternity.
Let’s go back to Jeremiah for a moment. Churches whose ministries are driven by the community where they are planted understand two critical realities.
The church does not get to choose where they minister. Jeremiah told Israel to pray for the peace of Babylon, even though they did not want to be there. Part of the church’s ineffectiveness is a desire to be somewhere else. God reminded Jeremiah how Israel found themselves in Babylon, “where I have caused you to be carried away.” Churches should grow where planted instead of always wishing to be transplanted somewhere else.
The church does not get to choose who they minister to. Israel had been carried away to an oppressive, hostile, and aggressive people who did not genuinely care for them. Healthy churches should reflect their given demographic. Churches are to love who they are given and never forget the community is its responsibility.