Let's go serve the needs of our community!
What is the first image that pops into your mind?
For most, it is serving the poor. For many Christians, though, the biggest needs in their neighborhoods is not poverty. I know it might be a scandal for me to say it, but I think the first needs that each church should meet are the needs of its surrounding community. For a suburban church, that means meeting the needs of suburbia. (We are also, by the way, called to serve the needs of those in the cities and around the world; meeting the needs in our community does not mean we don't think beyond our community.)
Serving suburbia can get tricky, you see, because many of the suburban needs are hidden, and intentionally so. Of course there are always people, even in the suburbs, who have financial needs. We are called to help those needs and serve those people. But what about the needs inside the nice house, big lawn, and picket fence? What about the hidden needs behind the facade of the perfectly manicured front yard? There are lives full of stress, marriages that are fractured, anxiety and depression, materialism and greed, isolation and insecurity. These are the secret sins and struggles of suburbia.
How can a church meet these hidden needs? It will not be with a "service event". It starts with listening and caring. It includes bringing people into a church family to be loved, and into smaller groups to grow trust to the point where the secret sins and struggles can be shared. Only then can God's work start to happen as the needs of this suburban child of God start to be shared - and he or she finally stops playing the image game and hiding the needs that so desperately need to be addressed. This is following Jesus who not only fed people (Mark 6:44), and physically healed people (Mark 5:9-13, 34, 42) but also cared deeply for the social and emotional needs of those He healed (Mark 5:19, 30-32, 37-43).
Every once in a while someone will ask me why our church doesn't do more to meet the needs of our community. I answer first that each Life Group (we have 7 now) serves - that is 21 service projects per year. As a church we have a day camp for special needs kids, support missionaries, have a youth mission trip, college mission trip, kids supporting feeding the hungry, and serve with Feed My Starving Children and Love Modesto. That is a lot of serving!
I also ask the person, "What ARE the needs of our community?" They typically answer, "The poor." I go on to explain the needs of suburbia - those secret and hidden needs. How will those needs get met? My hope is that they will see that food on Sunday mornings is there to encourage people to stay longer and open up more, that the phone calls we make and the coffee appointments we have are to get to know people more so they know they are loved, the groups and ministry teams we promote in people's lives are for people to experience the power of connection around Christ so they can trust, share, and change. This is a church totally set up to meet the hidden needs of our suburban community.
Pray for us as we continue to reach out to a hurting world in need of Christ and His love.