Time & Money: Taking Your Church to the Community

March 28th, 2013

I’ve read that you can tell a lot about what a person values by looking at what he or she spends time and money on. I think we could use these same indicators to learn a lot about a church as well.

Imagine archaeologists digging through the rubble of your current church building one thousand years from now, and they stumble onto a log of how your staff or attenders spent their time. Every service, every potluck, every small group, every Bible study, every hour the cleaning team or the hospitality team or the greeter team got together to meet. And then imagine the researchers compare the total of those hours invested in building or maintaining in-house ministries to the total number of hours the church spent outside the building. By studying how your church used its time, what would the archaeologists determine about your church’s identity? Based on the data, would they likely conclude you valued going to the world?

What if, along the way, they found your church’s detailed accounting records? If they studied the money spent on mortgage payments, electricity, sound equipment, music, props, books, snacks, and everything else that must be purchased to conduct ministry to weekend and midweek attenders? And what if they then compared that total to the amount of money that went to developing ministries or purchasing items that benefited residents beyond the four walls of your church building? Based on the data, would they likely conclude you valued going to the world?

I’m not suggesting that a certain percentage of time or money must be set aside for programs outside your doors. But I do remember as a child thinking it seemed a little bit odd when church leaders proudly announced that they gave 7 percent to foreign missions or 4 percent to local missions (or some other similar number). My little brain always quickly calculated that meant 11 percent was going to the community or “world,” while 89 percent went to run the church. When I got older and began to say this aloud, I quickly learned it was an unpopular thing to say.

But it still strikes me as very opposite, although difficult to reverse, of what Jesus intended. If the main idea was to go to the world, how did we end up designating only a small amount of money to expanding that purpose?

Some churches have taken measures to keep their overhead low by renting space rather than buying, sharing the same building among several congregations, or employing bivocational pastors. However, most churches won’t be able to responsibly reverse the way they allocate 100 percent of their time and money overnight.

Even so, churches can do some things to gradually shift their focus to include a stronger emphasis on going:

  • Add ideas about faith’s portable nature, about going, into core values, websites, membership manuals, and informational brochures. 
  • Encourage and recognize the service of people who serve in the community as much as you publicly applaud those who serve the church. Perhaps hold a ceremony to acknowledge the woman who selflessly gave ten years to the church nursery. Take the time that same night to recognize the guy who coached kids’ soccer for ten years at the community rec center. 
  • Hold small-group leader trainings that prepare people to lead groups that serve your attenders, and invest in trainings that help people nurture community outside your church’s four walls via office book clubs, play groups, Super Bowl parties, neighborhood barbecues, and so forth. You’d be surprised how many people would enjoy learning about how to be a better friend and neighbor. 
  • Try to make sure the building is used as much as possible if you’re going to devote the money to paying a mortgage on a building. Do you have a gym? Open it to a local middle school that doesn’t have enough room for all its teams to practice. Are there substance abuse or support groups that could offer their services in one of your classrooms? Could you open the sanctuary during limited hours for people who need a quiet place to pray? Aim to be a seven-day-a-week church. 
  • Determine to allocate a larger percentage of time and money this year than you designated last year for ministries that happen outside your building. If you were at 7 percent, go to 8, 10, or 15 percent. 
  • Set a goal to start a certain number of ministries that will serve people who do not attend weekend services. 
  • Reserve a certain number of weekend services, classes, and small groups per year to encourage and prepare people to carry faith to the community. 
  • Determine to create space in services to share what the church is doing outside its building. Let those who participate in service projects, mission trips, or ministry efforts to the community talk about what they learned. Interview community members on stage or via video, and ask them to share how they joined with or interacted with church attenders during an outreach experience. 
  • Offer orientation to serving your surrounding community, and encourage as many congregation members as possible to attend. Most important, provide training and teaching for church leaders as they influence the larger body of attenders and often shape initiatives that represent your church to those who are not members. 
  • Recruit volunteer leaders, or if you have the funds, hire a staff person who has the heart and ability to champion community relationships for your church. 

One additional word of wisdom: whether or not you can allocate more money to serve the community, always keep in perspective that money and tangible resources aren’t the most important things you have to offer. Hope, peace, and purpose found in God are worth far more than any amount of money you could offer. And even if you don’t have the financial resources to help someone in need, it can be helpful sometimes to just offer to listen or to have a cup of coffee together in an act of friendship.

This article is an excerpt from Portable Faith: How to Take Your Church to the Community by Sarah Cunningham, Copyright © 2013 Abingdon Press

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