Relevance. A word that sometimes can be tossed around fairly flippantly in the local church. What does this word mean, though? All too often we hear that word and think that adding more lights, louder music or maybe updating the preaching style to be a bit more “edgy” makes us relevant. I am not sure that is a great definition of being relevant, though. Of course there is nothing really wrong with the things I just mentioned—if they fit into your church culture. However, I don’t necessarily think adding those things makes a church relevant. When people request that the Church become more relevant, I believe they are asking the Church to make a true and genuine effort to know them and who they are.
Let’s be honest. We really haven’t done a good job understanding life outside of our four walls. We spend a ton of time building our culture inside the church. We have countless meetings and vision strategy sessions working on how to improve our identities as places of worship, but might spend significantly less time becoming students of the world around us.
You might be reading this and think: “Joe, we do outreach very well at our church. We are a definite presence in our community.” That is great! We should be! However, what I am talking about here goes beyond the concept of outreach. What I am talking about is doing life with our communities with zero expectations in return. How are we investing in our communities simply because we love them?
Here are some questions to ask yourself as you dig in and examine your relevance in the community in which your church has been placed.
1. Who else, other than our church, is making an impact in our community? Do we have relationship with them? It might be another church. It might be another organization. It could be a school or a government entity. It could even be a local business. Where do the people in your community go to do life together other than your church? It would be crazy for us to think for a second that we are the only ones making a positive impact on our communities. I would urge you to learn more about what happens in your community and build relationships with those who are invested there. Must they have the same mission, values or even beliefs as your church? I don’t think so. I think it is okay to have relationships especially with those who are doing what you are not. After all, we can’t do it all, right? Find these other people and organizations in your community and encourage them. Let them know that you are with them!
2. When you venture out into the community, who is it about? There is quite a trend out there right now with places of worship going out into their community and doing anything from raking leaves to building houses. I think that is great! That is what we should be doing. We should love our communities through acts of service regularly. What often can rub me the wrong way, though, is when we (maybe unintentionally) make it about ourselves. We wear shirts that advertise our church, we pull out press releases, and then oftentimes get together afterwards to celebrate all of the good things we did. This communicates to the un-churched or de-churched people in your community that your efforts weren’t solely rooted in your love for the community, but instead they were self-focused. I am not saying that these efforts are self-focused. I believe in serving the community. I believe that this should be celebrated. What I am saying is that we need to always be cognizant of the fact that our community is watching us and reading between the lines in terms of understanding our motivation. If it seems selfish to them, they will understandably reject us.
3. Do you know your neighbors? This is a huge question that every church should be asking their people. I live on a street where we are the only family out of eight that attend our church. That doesn’t stop us from knowing who they are, though. I help Paul across the street after Thanksgiving while he hangs his Christmas lights. I ask Jenn two houses down how her son’s broken arm is healing when I see her outside. I even stand outside with Thad, my nextdoor neighbor while he drinks a beer and talks about how his son is getting closer and closer to getting a much needed baseball scholarship. They know we go to church, and would love for them to join us sometime, but first and foremost they know that we are honored to be their neighbors and care about them. In addition, our churches should know the people around them. Not so much to draw them into our weekend services, but just so they know that we are glad to be a part of the community with them.
In essence, relevance is being a part of the community. It is understanding what makes it tick and being okay with the fact that our church, while it is a part of the community, isn’t all of the community. As you work hard to reach people for Christ, never forget that doing life with those around you, even if they are different, is what really matters.