How Can We Help?
Town hall, a church, school, grocery store, salon, another church, police department…
Your street holds all you need to transform your city from the inside out. But are you using the resources and people next to you in smart ways? Have you sat down at the same table as them and asked “how can we help?” Are you creating partnerships that make it possible to serve way more people than those sitting in your chairs on Sunday?
Many churches—small, big, urban or suburban—have made partnerships that, with time and commitment, have turned into citywide movements. They’re not only meeting needs much too large for one entity to address but answering the question together—this is how we’ll help.
You and the Village
About four years ago, a suburban group of churches and an urban group of churches in Colorado Springs, Colo., were talking independently. How could they serve their city better? One was more focused on volunteerism, the other on generosity. At the same time, a newly elected mayor was keen on finding solutions to the community’s No. 1 crisis—homelessness, and Stu Davis was on the frontlines as a staff member at Springs Rescue Mission, the area’s largest provider of services to the homeless.
With connections in both groups of churches, Davis helped facilitate one conversation between the faith community and the city leaders. What’s transpired is COS I Love You, a movement of churches with a goal for every woman, man and child to experience the tangible love of God in Colorado Springs.
And they’re well on their way: between 40-50 churches have given nearly $1 million to Spring Rescue Mission’s expansion, upping their capacity from 50 people a night to 500; and 3,700 volunteers gave 37,000 hours of service to hundreds of Colorado Springs residents in one day last year.
“We’re bringing churches to the table who say, ‘we want to help but don’t know how’ in conversation with our city leaders who say, ‘we know how but we don’t have the resources,’” says Davis, now executive director of COS I Love you.
You might know your neighborhood’s problem and be wondering how to help or you may need to start by finding out the problem. Whether you want to clean up the grounds of a few small-town schools or tackle a persistent drug problem among thousands of teens in an urban neighborhood, you are not alone. But you won’t find this out unless you start asking questions and introducing yourself to the church or restaurant or school around the corner.
“We want the Church, big C, to not be so isolated thinking, ‘it’s me and one other church,’ or, ‘it’s me and the school.’ No, it’s you and the village,” says Tracey Beal, pastor of community development at Pure Heart Church in Glendale, Ariz., as well as executive director of School Connect.
School Connect is an initiative that stemmed from schools needing partners, while churches, businesses and other organizations were wanting to help. Now, School Connect is bringing everyone together and has garnered national attention for bringing support to Arizona’s schools in part because they’ve done a good job listening to each other. The problem—a severe teacher shortage—is now known and the village is on it.
“What really got the attention of the city leaders was the faith community listening to what the city said mattered not what the church said was important,” Davis says of COS I Love You. “The American church has been known for showing up and pointing fingers at what they think are the problems and then trying to offer solutions, as opposed to really listening to city leaders.”
Events to Relationships
One of the easiest ways to start making friends is a broad day of service; these types of events often result in more ongoing projects and relationships. They also show your city leaders you’re serious about finding solutions to the problems they’ve shared.
School Connect in Arizona does Love Our Schools Day—thousands of volunteers from hundreds of churches and community partners serve schools throughout the state. Last year, COS I Love You did a CityServe day with 98 different project sites. One of those sites was a crisis pregnancy center where two young moms had unexpectedly chosen to keep their babies.
“We grabbed some interior designers and volunteers. Met with the moms. Pitched in $500 for each and did nursery makeovers so they had something beautiful to bring their babies home to,” shares Davis. “The moms felt affirmed, and one gave her life to Christ.” COS I Love you is hoping to do makeovers soon for eight more moms.
It may start with a fixed fence, raked leaves and donated school supplies, but the goal is trusting relationships and changed lives. A middle school in Arizona had a small group of 7th and 8th graders who were failing and likely not going to make it to the next grade. The school’s principal and teachers desperately wanted the kids to succeed. So, they met with a team from School Connect and nearby Pure Heart Church and asked “what can we do?” They landed on a dinner to which they invited the kids at risk of failing, their parents and the teachers.
“By doing this we encouraged them, supported them, and gave them a pathway to succeed,” explains Beal. “Everybody in that story is now so excited. Isn’t it cool all the things that can happen when you learn how to build trusted relationships and collaborate in a way that is truly good for everybody?”
Another citywide movement focused around one event isn’t taking the church into the community but bringing the community into local churches. For years, National Back to Church Sunday has encouraged thousands of churches to simply invite their neighbors to church on one Sunday in September—knowing that 82% of unchurched people say they’d consider going to church if they were just invited. Now, with a growing trend of churches partnering for more impact, Back to Church Sunday is encouraging churches i in a city or town to join together to invite everyone to go to church and Outreach, Inc., has created resources churches can use to spread the word.
“Churches can lock arms and unite to reach their city with the Gospel,” says Jason Daye, vice president of mobilization for Outreach. They can have a united voice, much like Dayton, Ohio, did. The city’s churches pitched in and made sure every house in Dayton received a postcard inviting them to a participating Back to Church Sunday church. With some 12,000 churches expected to participate in 2019, Outreach helps facilitate introductions and offers helpful tools – click here to join the movement.
Building up leaders
As these partnerships start gaining momentum, training leaders is crucial. It’s also one of the reasons churches are afraid to jump in—they don’t have an obvious person to take charge.
“I feel like sometimes we’re so focused on trying to train people before we do anything,” Beal says. “Start with action. Get people moving. Do a service day. Then, it becomes important to them…now they’re open, now they’re ready to learn because they’re in the process of trying to do it.” Once you get moving, leadership will rise to the surface and then you can begin training.
COS I Love you now hosts an annual Leadership Gathering. Similarly School Connect has a Summit bringing leaders together to learn and be inspired. “We’re trying to consistently build tool-kits and create catalytic events, so that we can get everyone to that table and make collaboration simpler,” says Beal.
And as collaboration grows, so, too, does the impact. School Connect recently created a digital asset map with the help of college students from Grand Canyon University that reveals schools, churches, businesses and organizations that can work together. Principals can also post their needs on a unique web site and partners in the area are essentially handed their to-do list.
Tips for Starting
Breaking your routine might be the hardest steps you take toward partnerships, but it’s the first step you need to take. “Often times, churches are so busy doing what they’re doing that they don’t look up and out. I understand it, I’m a pastor. I have a budget. I have weekend services. I have only so much I can do. It’s a real challenge,” recognizes Beal.
Depending on where you live, getting out in the neighborhood to meet and invite people to church may not be something your church would typically do. But summer and fall months are the perfect time with warmer weather, extended sunlight and more active lifestyles – Not only does it give you a chance to talk to your neighbors, it gives your church more exposure in the community.
To help you start conversations in the community, the Back to Church Sunday team has partnered with Every Home for Christ to provide churches with FREE resources that make it natural for your people to start spiritual conversations with those around them. Churches can order 500+ FREE Engager Invitations, a modern-day tract written around a felt-need or compelling topic, and then outreach teams can share them with people as they walk around the neighborhood. And there is even an app that helps you track the areas that have been reached and prayed for.
Another challenge is true unity. This can happen when second- or third-tier theological issues are let go for the sake of the larger conversation. “There are many great civic-minded ambassadors, but when push comes to shove they’re more interested in pushing a platform or agenda—and it’s not even a bad one!” explains Davis. “But we need more ears than mouths. Can we set those things aside and agree that God is who He says He is and Jesus is the Son of God?”
Once agendas are put aside, problem solved! Palm Croft Baptist in Phoenix knew a school down the street from them had families in need. Their solution was to turn part of their building into a clothing store, and a business agreed to provide the clothing. “The store is gorgeous—like a boutique. Then the school sends the family, and church volunteers give that family a private shopping experience,” says Beal. “There’s hundreds of variations on this theme—everybody at the table just doing what they’re good at, seeing that they’re part of a bigger picture.”
And answering the question… How can we help?