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by Mark Snipes, CBFVA Associate Coordinator

 

In a world that looks and acts drastically different than it did three months ago, the way that the church goes about living out its mission in the world also looks drastically different.  Most churches thrive by connecting with their community through hands-on mission. In a world of  “social distancing,” how do we as the Church stay “hands on” in a socially isolated world? Here are a couple of ideas.

 

  1. Reengage your community around current needs.

 

With the drastic changes that have occurred recently, do not assume that community needs are the same as they were before Covid-19. With so many people out of work, suffering with mental health issues, struggling with depression and anxiety and facing the depths of loneliness, the needs of the community may be more diverse and deeper than ever before.

 

How do you maintain a relationship with your community? While entire books have been written on the subject, one crucial step is finding the right people in your community to connect with. Perhaps it is the local elementary school teacher, or the police chief or another community pillar. Whomever these people might be where you are, get to know these pillars and stay in touch. Ask what changes they are seeing and ways that a church can meet needs. People who live and work in your church’s surrounding community often understand the community way better than those who are in your congregation. Make contacts outside your church and ask them to help you understand your community at a deeper level.

 

  1. Think outside the normal bounds in terms of people who can help.

 

How can we do so much with so little?

 

In almost every congregation, we have our go-to volunteers. As the famous line goes, “10 percent of people do 90 percent of the work.” In this new context, there is too much work to be done for this formula to work. As you assess needs, find those outside your normal volunteer base to help meet needs.

 

As you think about people to volunteer, ask deeper questions to those who reach out with a need. If someone calls for food, ask what else they may need. Parents may need a tutor for their children, shut-in’s may need a leaky sink fixed, auto-immune compromised individuals may need someone to help with groceries or mowing their lawn. These “unstated” needs can easily be met by people outside your normal volunteer base.

 

In my experience, there are people sitting in our pews who do not think they are valuable assets in mission. These congregants are often gifted handymen, school teachers and people who have free time that they would love to use their gifts if they were given shown how valuable their gifts were in meeting needs. There is more talent in your church than you realize.  Expanding your mission base helps meet more community needs while helping more church members find their place in doing community missions.

 

  1. When the whole world is thinking in terms of distance, think in terms of connection.

 

Those who visit our food pantries or call your church for assistance are often those with no safety net, no family to lean on. What does it look like to develop a missional strategy of relationship?

 

What would it look like to have a volunteer follow up over the phone with those you connect with missionally? Some of your clients will not want to talk or have a deeper relationship, which is fine, but others are looking for a connection that the church can provide.

 

No longer are people just coming in to get food, now you are welcoming friends in with whom you have a relationship. My hunch is there are people out there who need an ear to listen just as much as they need a bag of food.

 

Most are suggesting that when the crises ends the world will be different. If that is the case, the world will look differently also. My hope is that as we come out of this quarantine fog, we do so with a keen sense that the way the church has done mission in the past needs to step it up in terms of connection. Even in a world out of quarantine, there are really lonely people. Perhaps this break in the world has helped us see this truth.

 

As we move forward, here are a couple of questions to consider:

 

  1. How has this time of “social distancing” challenged your ideas about mission?
  2. How can we rethink connection after this time of being apart?
  3. What stories from scripture can challenge us during this time?
  4. How can we connect in new ways?