How Can One Church Uplift Another Church in the Neighborhood?
- Wendell Vinson Author
- 2019 22 Nov
"Pastor, do you have a minute?” a woman asked. We were between services, and I was hosting a guest speaker representing an international compassion ministry, so one minute was about all I had. “Pastor, there’s so much need in our city; it just doesn’t seem like we’re doing enough.”
To be honest, her comment irritated me a little, but I tried not to appear defensive. Perhaps this was another prodding of the Holy Spirit to engage the local church more effectively in healing social brokenness in our community.
But I was already stretched thin and hoping someone else would figure out how to do that.
During that time of introspection, I couldn’t shake free from three observations:
1. The church in most communities lacks a cohesive strategy for working together to respond to social brokenness.
2. God has positioned the church as the infrastructure to bring healing to its city, but it seems outside groups are extracting more from it than resourcing it.
3. The church needs to change significantly in the way it helps people sitting in the pews to build relationships with hurting people both locally and globally.
CityServe Starts with Outreach within Our Own City
To address these challenges, I knew we couldn’t continue to outsource compassion to people serving globally unless we were willing to reach out in compassion to our own city. From these observations, the Lord gave us the vision for CityServe and the strategy we now call “From the Neighborhood to the Nations.”
Across America, if you look closely, whether in urban centers or rural settings, you’ll find a neighborhood church on nearly every major street corner. That church, no matter how humble it may seem, represents God’s infrastructure and agency of hope for its community. Too often though, these neighborhood churches are under-resourced to address the scope of needs surrounding them. And, they don’t know where to turn for help.
The Poor Can Lack Mobility to Visit Churches
At the same time, in most regions of our country there are large churches, even megachurches, that are thriving, adding new people each week, and growing in influence. Frequently, these churches aren’t located in the most blighted parts of our communities.
As a pastor of one of these larger churches, I feel confident in saying to my colleagues who also pastor large churches: if every megachurch in our country doubled in size today, it would do little to bring healing to the most troubled parts of our communities. There are numerous reasons for this, but a major one is that the poor will never visit our churches because they lack mobility to get there.
Their world is in another zip code.
Megachurches Can Offer Resources to Smaller Local Churches
But what might happen if the megachurches got underneath and lifted the neighborhood churches in these under-resourced and socially fragile areas? What if we took to heart the admonition from Jesus in Luke 12:48, “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded”?
This challenge includes both individuals and groups of people gathered in churches. Ask yourself: What might happen if instead of plucking people from neighborhood churches, larger churches raised the tide of all these boats?
What if we encouraged these local pastors, served them, and widened their church’s capacity to become the go-to place for help and healing?
Are We Sharing and Investing our Compassion, or Outsourcing?
I’m all for credible parachurch organizations that are doing effective charitable service around the globe, but all their good work will never take the place of the transformative ministry of Jesus through His church to local neighborhoods.
Nor can we be satisfied with episodic compassion events that, candidly, do more to make the participants feel good than lift people out of systemic poverty.
Our church decided to invest a lot of our leadership and financial capacity into strengthening smaller churches throughout our region. Yes, the decision to move this direction versus expanding our main campus tested our margins and commitment, but it extended our reach beyond anything else we had ever done.
CityServe Lifts Up Neighborhood Churches
Now our team is investing daily to strengthen pastors and leaders of smaller churches in difficult neighborhoods. We don’t want to be over them but under them to enable them to more effectively minister to people in their neighborhoods.
In most cases, pastors just need a trusted leader and friend to dream with them for student ministry to reach hundreds of children and youth. Or they need help structuring a ministry to nurture single moms and impoverished widows struggling to make ends meet. So much potential is released when a pastor feels confident; they aren’t alone because another church is standing with them.
Spurring on larger churches to help raise healthy churches in one of the neediest areas of our community is another way God is supernaturally using CityServe.
One by One, Churches Grow through One-on-One Compassion
One of these small rural churches in California, had fallen on hard times and closed for several months. This little town, like many, had been severely impacted economically through the recession and eventually this neighborhood church closed its doors.
Then a young leader accepted the assignment of relaunching the church in this impoverished neighborhood. He gathered a team and, with the support of CityServe, began meaningful compassion engagement to hurting people in the neighborhood.
The team distributed food, clothing, furniture, household supplies, and even dog food! They made friends and shared the gospel. One by one, family by family, people started attending the church. Now, baptism celebrations are regular events each month and discipleship classes accommodate the new believers.
As new people came to the church, they were immediately immersed in a culture of community compassion and engagement and, as a result, became effective soul winners. What they discovered is that operating in the compassion of Jesus makes soul winning easy.
Compassion Is Scalable
Sometimes we church leaders hesitate to respond to the needs around us because our focus is on what we don’t have instead of what we do have. For example, although our resources were extremely limited, out of obedience to the James 1:27 call to “visit orphans and widows in their trouble” (NKJV), we started caring for the widows in our church and community. Years later, we had a thriving senior-living community on our campus serving widows and seniors all over the city.
Our initiatives to serve the poor began by giving away small amounts of food and household goods; now our programs operate out of a 165,000-square-footbuilding in the heart of the city. This building, which was a dilapidated eyesore, is now a symbol of community renewal.
God’s love and compassion is boundless, but His strategies are scalable! Start where you are, with what you have, and God will bring the increase!
Becoming “Bless-able” by Responding to the Cries of Your Community
You may think I’m being trite when I say, “What God’s people need most is God’s blessing.” Frankly, it used to sound cliché to me as well until the principle of “bless-able-ness” transformed my thinking, priorities, and definition of success.
How do we become “bless-able”? The good news is that God has already provided the formula for His blessings in the Bible. Scripture repeatedly tells us that when we advocate and care for the hungry, the poor, the orphan and widow, the addicted, imprisoned, vulnerable, exploited, and unreached, God’s blessing will be upon us.
You can get inspired by the latest gurus of leadership and read the bestselling books on church growth, but if you aren’t modeling servant leadership by responding tangibly to the cries of your community, you’ll never experience the full “bless-able-ness” of God. “The generous will themselves be blessed, for they share their food with the poor.” (Proverbs 22:9)
From the Neighborhood to the Nations
We believe that as we empower local churches to care for their community, these local churches will emerge emboldened, envisioned, and more generous towards supporting compassion evangelism projects around the globe.
Whether you’re a pastor, a business leader, or a worker in a cubicle at your office; as a Christ-follower you’re part of the most compelling Spirit-led Neighborhood to the Nations strategy ever designed: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)
Right now, perhaps more than at any time in history, we have an amazing opportunity as the church to become known for demonstrating the kindness, unity, and compassion of Jesus. Our culture is stuck in an angry, toxic, polarized quagmire that only fuels division and dark hopelessness.
Yet, like the first-century church, the conditions are perfect for today’s church to rise and lead a mighty force for good, from the Neighborhood to the Nations!
Adapted from CityServe: Your Guide to Church-Based Compassion. Copyright © 2019 by Dave Donaldson. Published by Salubris Resources, Springfield, Missouri.
Wendell Vinson is the pastor of Canyon Hills Church in California, one of the leading multisite churches in the nation, pioneering fresh approaches to church revitalization and evangelism from the “neighborhood to the nations.” He is the architect of the CityServe model in Southern California and is a co-founder of CityServe International.
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