"We try to be missional. We try to be externally
focused," the young pastor told me. "But nothing seems to
This church, in a metropolitan area, has invested in
numerous efforts to reach into the community and address various
needs. But nothing has resulted in really connecting those who are
served with the church or its members.
The pastor described a recent dinner the members
provided for low-income people in the neighborhood. "We filled the
hall with hungry people," he said. "And our members turned out to
cook the dinner. It was very nice. But I noticed that while the
people from the community ate, all of our people huddled in the
kitchen. It was a like a total separation of the haves and the
For many churches, the local missions budget line
funds one-shot meals and other seasonal handouts. It seems every
local parade or community event sees churches handing out
chotskies-fly swatters, hand fans, novelty currency, bottled water,
microwave popcorn, etc.-bearing a sticker with the church name.
All of this may be an attempt at church branding. But
it rarely produces any lasting effect for the cause of Christ. Some
call it drive-by outreach.
What's missing? Relationship.
If the mission of the church has something to do with
helping people come to know, love and follow Jesus, that rarely
happens outside of relationship. In fact, our faith in Christ is a
relationship. It is not a brand. It is not a drive-by.
Faith is a relationship. And our efforts to help
people grow in faith and to feel God's love are best pursued in the
context of relationship.
Rather than spending time and money on one-shot
encounters, other churches are mobilizing their people into ongoing
relationship-rich ministries with significant impact. For example,
hundreds of churches work with Kids Hope USA. It
facilitates one-on-one mentoring relationships between adult church
members and at-risk elementary school children in their communities
who need loving, caring adults in their lives.
Kids Hope pairs one church with one school. Church
members receive training and spend one hour with one child each
week-befriending, mentoring and tutoring.
Another national program, Buddy
Break, equips churches to provide a recurring time of respite
for caregivers. Kids with special needs spend a few hours with
trained church members while caregivers get a break.
Jay Crouch devotes his time to Buddy Break once a
month at his church, First Presbyterian, in Eustis, Florida. Last
month he greeted the thankful but exhausted mother of a severely
disabled child. He asked her what she does with her three-hour
Buddy Break. She told Jay she goes to her car, turns on the air
conditioner, and sleeps. "It's the only real rest I get," she
Churches that effectively reach into their communities
empower their people to glow the love of Jesus-through authentic
relationships with members of the community. That kind of love is