Following a conversation on a Facebook group about this blogpost I am responding to this challenge
‘The blog post is about one way to build relationships in the community; I would love to see a UK Methodist brainstorm on other ways to move from our internally-focused condition toward an externally-focused one.’
I write as some-one who has been involved as a district mission enabler, now as a minister working in rural and semi-rural churches, and in my reading about and observations of others doing interesting projects.
Firstly – don’t assume that because the only thing in the church notices is next week’s preacher that this means mission and community engagement is not happening. In some communities you will find that the church people are already deeply engaged with voluntary groups and the work that keeps the village flourishing. Even if not overtly sharing their faith story they are recognised as faith led people.
When I was a mission enabler I found that people were anxious about inviting me to work with their church. They have a sense of falling short of what the church is called to and fear being told to do things that terrify them or feel impossible. Starting from affirming what is already there is critical to ease the anxiety. Then I would nudge them about how to develop from what is already there. We can be very good a service and struggle with talking about faith and life matters. You don’t turn the existing lunch club or coffee morning into a Bible study, but offer a prayer corner, or invite people to stay on for a small reflection or service, always optional, but giving attenders small steps into considering faith, rather than expecting the huge leap into Sunday morning. And the small steps feel doable for the church and as they do the small steps they are encouraged to relearn how to dream and do.
So ways of engaging with the community I have known and seen in the British context –
1. Primary schools – are often open to church volunteers in assemblies, a resource such as Open The Book makes it predictable for head teachers, and very accessible for a local team of volunteers, and the children love it. Relationships can develop with volunteers listening to reading, helping as extra adults on trips, schools taking part in church events, contributing to the Christmas Tree Festival, older pupils helping with a lunch club at church, choir at carol service…
2. Local businesses – get involved with the local chamber of trade, or business association. The church is not a business but these groups offer insights into issues in the local economy. They are often involved in local community events, get a pitch at things that are happening and provide volunteers for all the work that is needed to make them happen. From those relationships other opportunities are possible….
Eg Promoting the Christmas story in the community – some have sent ‘Mary and Joseph’ figures on a journey from shop to shop sitting in the display window for a day then moving to the next shop, people are encouraged to watch out for where they will turn up next. Others have sheep or angels scattered around the town that can be tracked down. Some churches have taken temporary shops at Christmas and Easter as a pastoral base and opportunity to have displays around our faith.
3. Offer space to fill gaps as local provision is cut – a library link collecting books from the next town to run a monthly library at the village coffee morning when the mobile service was cut, hosting books for a voluntary provision when the branch library closed. Some places go into the deep technicalities and legalities to host post office and village shop.
4. Offer opportunities to talk about the ‘big issues’ people face – without making it all religious. Death café events, Happiness Course, Agnostics Anonymous, drawing on film and books in conversation groups. Be a safe space for meaningful conversation without being conversion focussed. We are companions on a journey and the other person leads about when, if ever, the conversation turns to faith.
And that is before considering ways of worshipping in more creative ways to enable those of different learning styles, ages, interests - Messy Church, Forest Church, Cafe Church, and so many more.