Our church is turning ten this year! That means there are ten years of great blogs on our website. I encourage you at some point to go back and peruse the past posts. One of the most shared and discussed posts was the one below, on meeting the needs of our neighborhoods, including the hidden needs in the suburbs. I got a lot of feedback from people in our church because this post helped them to understand how our church meets needs in our neighborhood. I also got much thanks from fellow pastors who had felt validated in the location and mission of their churches. I hope you enjoy the post below (it has been slightly edited and updated). I hope it helps you see the importance of where we are and the needs God has made us to address. We are turning ten, and God is just getting started with the lives He wants to transform. Let’s stay on mission together!
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 struggle in their neighborhoods is not poverty. I think the first needs that each church should meet are the needs of its surrounding community. 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 neighborhoods first does not mean we don’t think beyond our neighborhoods. I know it might be a scandal for me to say it, but I think a suburban church should first meet the needs of suburbia.
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 should help and serve those with financial need. But what about the needs inside the nice house, big lawn, and picket fence? What about the hidden needs behind the façade of the perfectly manicured front yard? There are lives full of stress, anxiety and depression, materialism and greed, isolation and insecurity. Singles are struggling, and marriages are fractured. 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 where trust can grow to the point that secret sins and struggles can be shared. Only then can God’s work start – as this suburban child of God finally stops playing the image game and begins sharing 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 we have 15 Life Groups, and each one serves three times year – that is 45 service projects per year. Individuals in our church serve in the community in a bunch of different ways. As a church we pack over 10,000 meals for starving kids every year, participate in Night to Shine and Love Modesto, support global missionaries, and regularly have next generation serving trips, including building a home in Mexico. 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 our church has on Sundays encourages 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. We are not blind to the needs nor ashamed of our location. We are on mission with Jesus!
Pray for us as we continue to reach out to a hurting world in need of Christ and His love. And meet the needs of your neighborhood, wherever you are!