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The missing element

By Sam S. Rainer III

In order for a church to fulfill its true purpose, it must be making a noticeable impact on the community. Sadly, many church leaders miss this point. In fact, a recent cross-denominational survey found that four out of 10 church leaders do not have a strong desire to reach out further in the community. While this figure is disheartening, I want to focus on the majority of leaders desiring to impact their communities.

One of the revealing questions our research team asks of pastors and church leaders is whether they are connecting with community leaders. Church leaders that build relationships with other leaders in the community generally have a better understanding of how to impact their communities.

Mitch is an example of a pastor who recently discovered the potential impact of connecting with community leaders. He received a call from the superintendant of the large private school next to his church. Mitch had heard of his reputation as a militant atheist. When the superintendant wanted to schedule a meeting, Mitch did not have high hopes.

“I assumed that he wanted to chastise us for using their parking lot on Sundays,” Mitch told us. “After meeting with him, however, I was shocked to find that he didn’t mind. He simply wanted to get to know me.”

With a hint of guilt Mitch continued, “I assumed the worst about this guy based upon our own church rumors, yet now we have a great relationship.” As a result of connecting with the superintendant, Mitch has a window into the needs of students and parents at a school where no one attends his church.

“They’re right across the street, and I never thought about reaching out to them. I learned my lesson.”

Mitch’s situation is not unique. Church leaders ready to serve may not know where to begin in the community. Additionally, leaders unconnected to the church may not realize that the local church could meet their unique community needs. The missing element of making an impact might just be reaching out to other leaders. But before reaching outward, consider these four bits of insight.

Asking precedes understanding. Don’t assume you know the biggest issues in the community. Ask others to tell you their perspective. Asking helps clarify and prioritize known needs. Understanding the viewpoint of other leaders will also give you insight into how best to approach new community problems.

Connecting precedes service. While churches do not need local leaders for every form of outreach, some of the best ideas for serving originate with leaders closely connected to the issues. Before beginning new forms of outreach, contact local leaders and ask their input.

Genuineness precedes relationships. True relationships are built on trust and authenticity. And not all community leaders will be receptive even to the most genuine of intentions. If your goal is to politick when connecting with community leaders, your impact will be greatly diminished. Don’t have an agenda; simply meet with leaders and ask them how you can serve.

Impact precedes receptiveness. We hear stories all the time about how the unchurched are more willing to attend a service at a church making an impact in the local community. One of the complaints I hear from stagnant and declining churches is that people are not as receptive as they once were. The level of impact you make as a church many times will determine the level of receptiveness in the community.

Many local leaders will be in tune to some of the greatest physical and emotional needs of the community. Only the church, however, has the message that can heal a community’s spiritual problems. Clearly, the goal is to impact your community so that people will see the eternal implications of a relationship with Jesus Christ.

Sam S. Rainer III is the president of Rainer Research and senior pastor of First Baptist Church Murray, Murray, KY. [www.rainerresearch.com] [www.fbcmurray.org]

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