Dear Church Planters
Some of you may have read the article ‘LIKE A GOOD NEIGHBOUR’ by John Beukema. (Thanks Barbara Rice for sending this in – with the comment:
“Worth reading again and again!”) …
I wish you every blessing,
CHURCH PLANTERS NEWS – extra ‘LIKE A GOOD NEIGHBOUR’
In this issue –
# LIKE A GOOD NEIGHBOUR: Six keys to improve your church’s reputation within the community! – by John Beukema
My neighbor bicycled past me as I walked the two blocks to the church office. I wasn’t too surprised when he ignored my greeting. He had never been too cheerful.
Across the street from the high school, he got off his bicycle and began to pick up several pop cans that littered the sidewalk.
How nice, I thought as he put them in the basket hanging from his handlebars. Then he walked the bicycle across the street, put down the kickstand, and threw each of those cans onto the front lawn of the high school with obvious disgust.
Is that how he also feels about our church? I wondered. Had we been a bad neighbor in any way?
Later that month I met with the elders of another church that was searching for a senior pastor. I asked, “If I went to three houses in your neighborhood, knocked on the door, and asked what they think of your church, what do you imagine they would say?”
Puzzled looks crossed their faces. One responded, “What do you mean, ‘What do they think?'” Their attitude was one of indifference, as if it didn’t matter what anyone outside the walls thought about the church. But it’s a question worth considering. It isn’t safe to assume you know what your community reputation truly is. Cultivating a reputation that glorifies God takes work. Becoming a church of good repute requires these six keys.
1. What do our neighbors see?
A decade before I came on staff, our church grew concerned about drug deals and car thefts occurring in the parking lot. After much discussion, a seven-foot iron fence was constructed across the front of the church property. The gates were padlocked except during service times.
This did indeed stop the parking lot from being used for unholy purposes. It also loudly communicated that we wanted little to do with our community. We had to work twice as hard to show we welcomed people.
Most of what we do in church is behind closed doors. Never venturing inside, many neighbors have no occasion to observe the church gathered. To overcome this, our church held an annual carnival every fall. The event served as an advertisement and kick-off for our weekday children’s programs, offering games, rides, refreshment stands, and fun for all ages.
The iron gates (which had been padlocked open for years) now serve as a backdrop for the booths. People from the community flocked to the event in increasing numbers. Each year something new was added.
Many neighbors discovered who we were for the first time.
2. Are we communicating?
Prior to expansion and major renovation of our church, the building committee invited our surrounding neighbors for an evening of coffee and discussion of our plans. Quite a few came. After the presentation, we asked for feedback. Their leader (they had organized) spoke up.
“We are glad to see a church grow,” he said kindly. “But some things have to change if you don’t want opposition from us.” I swallowed hard.
We considered ourselves good neighbors, and our church had been there longer than any of these homeowners.
“The problem is the noise,” he continued. “The loud music, singing, drums, and noisy conversations in the parking lot until two in the morning have to stop.”
As we explored the issue further, we found that our Spanish congregation was exceeding the village’s 10 P.M. curfew.
“I don’t know what God they worship,” said another neighbor, “but he’s deaf.”
Had we not actively communicated with our neighbors, we would not have learned about this until the opposition was militant. We were able to adjust the Spanish congregation’s activities, and everyone was satisfied.
3. Do we join their events?
Churches are sometimes seen as standoff-ish. Putting a float in the town parade is not a waste of time. Our congregation has also taken part in our village’s annual “Christmas Walk.”
This is an evening in December when stores stay open late, serving treats and spreading holiday cheer.
Since ours is the only church located right in the village, it became the center for a musical extravaganza put on by all the churches. People could wander in, enjoy some great Christmas music, have some refreshments, and wander back out again. Such participation gives a face for our church to the village, and a better relationship.
Another opportunity arose for me when, as the new pastor in town, I was invited to be the chaplain for the village fire department. None of the other clergy felt able to do so.
I accepted the task. This did not go unnoticed by the village leaders.
They have expressed a great deal more appreciation than I have delivered in actual ministry. This simple act communicated that we care for more than our own interests.
4. Have we shown kindness?
Years ago I realized that our community only heard from the church when we wanted something from them-inviting them to some program we were offering. These were all good and worthwhile ministries, but I wanted to make sure that our neighbors heard from us in different contexts.
With this in mind, we had some of our people go door to door offering to fix, clean, paint, or haul stuff away. Recently, our junior high students stood out in the cold, handing cups of hot chocolate to commuters on their way to the train. Why? To serve the community. Yes, some people were suspicious enough not to drink what they’d been handed. But it was a gesture of kindness from our church.
We try to find ways to let our neighbors know we care about their salvation and are ready to help them in other ways.
5. Are we caring for our property?
From the condition of their buildings and grounds, churches can exude a “we don’t care” attitude. Certainly there are more pressing aspects of ministry, but a battered sign, overgrown hedge, peeling paint, or burned out lights send the wrong message to the neighbors.
One way of dealing with this issue is a church work party, which can also be beneficial to congregational life. I’ve found work days to be times when the neighbors will stop by with compliments, complaints, and suggestions. It’s another means of visibility and communication.
Yes, I know the church isn’t a building. Yet our theology can be a rationalization for ignoring our most visible presence. Too easily we grow accustomed to shabby, outdated, uninviting surroundings. While we view our church through the lens of theology, memories, and imagination, our neighbors haven’t been fitted with those lenses, so they see every dandelion, defect, and design flaw.
6. Can we turn the other cheek?
It is rare to live next to someone and not have instances of tension.
One church neighbor built a decorative concrete barrier between his property and ours. That spring he claimed our snowplough had broken sections of the barrier while ploughing the parking lot.
Another neighbor had a similar complaint over damage to his wooden fence. Rather than haggling with either of them, we felt it more important to settle the issue to their satisfaction, and so we had both walls rebuilt or repaired. The good will this created was well worth the price.
“A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold,” says Proverbs 22:1. Shakespeare paraphrased Solomon with these words, “The purest treasure mortal times afford is spotless reputation.”
To have a positive impact in the community, a church must mind its reputation.
John Beukema is pastor of Village Church in Western Springs, Illinois.
Copyright © 2003 by the author or Christianity Today International/Leadership Journal.
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Spring 2003, Vol. XXIV, No. 2, Page 55