How to position your church in your community

by | May 20, 2022

One of the things we find churches struggle with the most is defining their place, or role, in their community.

We think so long and hard about our Sunday services, ministries, and programs, but we don’t think long and hard enough about how to position ourselves in the community in which we belong.

What is the role of your church in your community? Are you always calling people to come to you? How often do you go to them? If you were to go to them, what would be the purpose behind your outreach?

There are many ways to go about determining your church’s role in your community. We wanted to offer our process as a way you can better understand your neighbors and position your church as a solution to the problems people experience in the community surrounding your church.

This impacts everything from your ministry to your social media and website messaging.

Let’s dive in.

 

First: Identify the Problems Present

The first thing we need to do to understand your church’s place in your community is to identify the problems people are experiencing in your community. You might refer to problems as “needs” or “wants.”

These problems can be anything from simply a lack of free fun for families who don’t have the expendable income to things that are much more painful for people like homelessness, addiction, crime, trafficking, or anything else.

We’re not necessarily looking for the most painful problems right now. We’re just looking to identify avenues for your church to step into the stories your neighbors are already living and help them write a better ending.

Here are some ways you can work to identify the needs in your community.

+ Create a Community Survey

Push this out via email, social media, and local influencers (business leaders, government officials, school administrators, community organization leaders, etc.).

Ask questions that tell you what people want, what they need, what they’re missing, excited about, afraid of, etc.

+ Interview Stakeholders

  • City Council Members
  • Small Business Owners
  • Heads of Homeowners Associations
  • Educators in different schools
  • School Administrators
  • Local Reporters who cover local news

+ Prayer Walk

Spend time walking through your community neighborhoods and streets you don’t usually visit. Chat with neighbors and get their input. What do you see? What do you hear?

If you live in an economically diverse area, split time between higher and lower-income neighborhoods and apartments. They all have needs.

These are relatively simple ways to determine what needs are present in your community. You will also learn pretty quickly what organizations are already working on some of the needs you identify. With that information, you might decide to partner with them or that they have it covered, and your church can focus on needs that seem to have slipped through the cracks.

 

Second: Develop a Plan of Action

Now that you have identified the problems, or needs, present in your community, it’s time to organize.

Take the list of needs you have identified and divide them into three categories:

  1. Can be handled by current ministries of the church
  2. Require new ministries to be developed
  3. Completely out of our ability to help (set aside)

You will look at some of the needs you identified and realize, “Oh! We already have a ministry that can serve this need.!” That’s excellent news. Pass your information on to the leaders of that ministry and find ways to resource them to take action to expand their efforts.

You will realize you need to create something new to handle other needs you identify. In this case, you don’t want to over-extend yourself, so you should choose one or two needs you believe will best equip you to impact and begin developing a new ministry or program to address those needs.

Whether you’re creating a plan of action with a current ministry, or creating a new ministry, identify community partners to team up with to help. You’ll be more successful with a coalition than trying to do everything yourself!

 

Third: “If you build it, they still won’t come.”

Ok, you have now identified the problems and needs in your community, categorized them, and come up with ministries your church has or can create to provide solutions. That’s amazing!

However, “If you build it, they will come” doesn’t exactly work. A more accurate line would be, “If you build it and TELL THEM ABOUT IT they will come.”

You need a communications plan to let your neighbors know how you plan to meet their needs.

Your communications campaign should make sure to have the following talking points.

  1. Define the problem: Make it clear that you’re talking about their problem and how it makes them feel.
  2. Explain the solution: What is your answer, and how does it directly relate to the problem they feel?
  3. Show their Success: What does success look like for THEM after engaging your solution/ministry?
  4. Call-to-Action: What is the ONE THING they HAVE to do to participate?

Make sure all of these talking points are accounted for on your website, social media posts, flyers, road signs, emails, mailers, etc.

Sometimes you’ll describe them deeply. Other times you’ll just touch on them and keep moving. Either way, make sure each of these is present in your communications plan for your new and current ministries.

 

Putting it all together

Now, let’s look at a quick example of how you might put this together using the nonprofit I co-founded in 2020.

Solutions to problems and needs in your community don’t come together overnight. Let’s just be clear about that now. Things can take time to develop. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t take some action now.

In 2020, our normally safe community was rocked by a homicide right in the center of our area. We had seen an uptick in petty crimes and robberies in the previous couple of years, but now an armed robbery had escalated to homicide.

A few of us got together to try and develop a way to turn things around. We knew the solutions would be long term but that we could act in the short term to at least stop the bleeding. Here’s what we did:

Stop the Bleeding

First, we contacted the shopping center in the community which had the brunt of the issues and where the homicide had occurred. We asked the property manager to donate an empty storefront to the community where we could host a Police Substation.

A police substation is a safe place where officers on patrol can stop to do paperwork, use the restroom, eat their meal, or grab a quick drink or snack. In our city, there is no police station where officers congregate, so they spend their entire shifts in their patrol cars and often struggle to find a place to simply stop for the restroom.

The property manager agreed and we partnered with community members to furnish it and supply it with basic food and drink. This immediately increased the presence of police officers in the hardest hit corner of our community.

Look Longterm

After the substation went in, things like petty crime and robberies significantly decreased in that immediate area. So, we started looking toward long-term solutions.

We created a community survey and pushed it out as noted above. We had several hundred responses.

From this survey, we realized we needed to conduct a broader research project to determine the needs of the area, current assets available, and a plan to address it all. A feasibility study and oversight team were created.

We also created a partnership with a local public safety organization and local police to address an even greater uptick in violent crime that occurred in 2021.

Wrapping it Up

If you identify and address the immediate needs of your community, as well as long-term concerns, your neighbors will start to identify you with their own survival and ability to thrive. It will create goodwill and even a sense of reciprocity among your neighbors. People will begin to take more interest in your church, even if they’re not interested right away in your religion.

Warning: Don’t over-spiritualize any of this. Just solve problems and build relationships. Everyone knows you’re a church, and you love Jesus. Those conversations will come naturally as you build relationships and show you’re more about connection than conversion.

Not Sure About Doing All of This on Your Own?

At Clear Church Communications, we offer fully-managed church communications at a flat monthly rate so almost any church can afford a great website, consistent social media, and a chance to transform their community.

Need some more time or just want some help handling communications on your own? Subscribe to our Weekly Church Communications Tips emails. Get ideas, training, and support directly to your email every week.

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