Daniel Darling is the Senior Pastor of Gages Lake Bible Church in the northwest suburbs of Chicago and is the author of Teen People of the Bible, Crash Course, iFaith, Real, and Activist Faith: From Him and For Him. He blogs at DanielDarling.com.
What if you are the pastor of a small church but would like to do something to serve your community? What if you love the idea of adopting a school, but barely have enough resources to cover your nursery on Sunday?
Is it possible to do acts of mercy in your local Jerusalem with a tiny band of volunteers? Surprisingly, it is. Here are six tips for small church outreach:
1. Relieve yourself of false guilt.
If there is one thing that plagues small church pastors in a big metro area, it’s the constant guilt about what your church is “not doing.” Mostly this guilt comes as a result of comparing yourself to the other churches in town.
Instead, begin to look at the entire body of Christ in your community rather than your own specific congregation. You are just one of many God is using in that region to bring about His glory. When I finally realized that God wasn’t calling Gages Lake Bible Church to be the entire Church to our local region, it enabled me to focus on a few small areas of opportunity and giftedness.
2. Look for ways to partner with existing churches and organizations.
It’s important to build relationships with other Christian leaders in town to see what existing projects your church can join. They are always in need of manpower and money. You’d be surprised at how your little contribution can make a big difference.
Sometimes you can offer your building, even it is small, as a staging or training area. Every church has boundaries on their involvement with other churches, but I encourage you to partner in areas of agreement and get your people involved in worthy, God-honoring community endeavors.
3. Recognize what your people are already doing.
You might be surprised to know that your people are already involved in community projects.
For instance, I discovered that one of our new members was an active volunteer with a anti-poverty ministry. Another is part of a homeless outreach.
So when opportunities to serve come up, I publicize these in our bulletin to attract other likeminded volunteers to the efforts. I’m finding that not every endeavor has to be planned, coordinated, and arranged from the leadership on down. Sometimes the effort is a matter of empowering work already happening.
4. Mobilize people for opportunities.
As the pastor, I’m still the one who is most aware of opportunities for service. Most of my people are working long hours and busy raising their families. I’m the one meeting with other pastors, keeping up with various movements, and generally aware of the needs in the community.
I’ve realized how important it is to make it easy for my people to get involved, either financially for with their time. So when a partnering organization alerts me of an opportunity for service, I weigh whether or not it is doable and fits with our mission and then publicize it across our media (bulletin, Facebook, email newsletter, Sunday announcements) with clear instructions on the where, when, how.
5. Do a few things well.
During my first year of ministry, a wise pastor offered this simple advice: do a few things well rather than a lot of things poorly. That sage wisdom has served me well.
You cannot love your community well if you use a sort of scattershot approach. Instead, your leadership must pray and ask the Lord where he would have you concentrate your efforts. The fact is that you will have to turn down more worthy causes than you accept. But you can rest in the knowledge that God may raise up other churches in the community to fill that slack.
6. Celebrate small wins.
The truth is that you’re small church probably won’t make the evening news or Outreach Magazine. And yet that doesn’t diminish the worthiness of the efforts you give at loving your community.
Earlier this year Gages Lake raised $700 for our local crisis pregnancy center. Last Christmas we fed five needy families. We paid for homeless lady to get a pair of glasses. Several of our people regularly volunteer at local organizations. It doesn’t sound like a whole lot, but it’s more than zero.
Celebrate those efforts publicly, privately and to those who gave. Remember, it’s not the size of your effort that matters, but the heart behind it.