The right answers to the right questions

January 19th, 2016

In recent years, a unique question captured church attention across the nation. Many congregational leaders, popular speakers and passionate pastors sought to startle faith communities into action by asking: “If this church disappeared tomorrow, would anyone miss us?”

A query worth probing, no doubt. The call to action woven into this question has caused renewed vigor to reach a compassionate hand into the local community surrounding every church. While the desire for people to notice their efforts helps a faith family to look—and step—outside its own walls, the challenge then changes.

Keep focusing on questions, but listen for those that come from the people being served. That’s where a church finds the community relevance it seeks. After all, no one misses a stranger.

Let’s dive into specific examples. For twenty years, our organization has partnered churches with schools to set up mentoring programs for at-risk elementary-aged students. After reaching nearly 70,000 kids across those two decades, three questions consistently stand atop the list of what youngsters ask their mentors. Why is this information important to know? Simple; it reminds everyone involved (now over 1,200 church-school programs) what is important to the folks we serve. Overlook this information, regardless of the outreach effort, and program effectiveness disappears faster than pizza at a student ministry event.

Grab hold of what’s important, though, and people will care a lot about a church’s role in its community.

The three most frequently asked questions from a student to his/her mentor:


Question #3: Do you get paid?

Students want to know if the person who they’re paired with is simply another school employee doing his or her job. If that’s the case, no reason exists to feel special. But when a child discovers that a mentor shows up because he or she wants to, not because he has to, then everything changes. In any program, people will perceive a volunteer’s true motivation for serving—and that perception sets the tone for the entire experience.

Here’s how this question sounded when posed by a first-grader to his mentor: “Where do you work?”

The mentor replied, “I work in an office about a half-hour away. The place where I work agreed to give me time off to meet with you.”

So far, so good. But more questions await.

Question #2: Are you coming back?

The students served by a mentoring program typically have experienced life punctuated by many relational disappointments. Skepticism is both justified and necessary as a defense shield to guard against another let-down. Please consider this question carefully—and not just for a mentoring program. Actually, obsess over it. Then ask it every time the urge arrives to serve people. Folks young and old and all ages between long for reliability and relationships, so challenge the value of one-time-only efforts. The community will only notice a church if the church has relational ties—the kind that take time to develop. Kids cleverly sniff out this issue.  

“How often did that office say you could come here?”

“They said I can come back here every week to meet with you.”

That exchange sets up the most frequently asked question.


Question #1: Who else do you meet with?

“So how many kids do you see here?”

What a brilliant question! In this child’s mind and heart, the hoped-for answer of “just one” translates to become “They only see me; this is just for me!” When a child discovers that an adult willingly volunteers to spend time meeting with him, reliably, and him alone, feeling special becomes feeling loved. Every community across our nation needs more people feeling loved. Second to no one, local churches are fully equipped to meet this need for love. Willingness to deploy stands as the real issue.

Our team asks many questions about our program as we seek to expand and improve, but the above three questions serve as the constant backdrop for decisions we make. While churches serve themselves well to wonder if their communities would ever miss them, they will serve others even better by knowing the questions people ask so they can pursue the answers that matter most. 

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