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I t took buying a lot of breakfasts to get to where Trinity Community Church is today. At least that’s how Bill Flavin, pastor of Trinity, describes his relationship-building process with the community in Brown Deer, Wisconsin. Early in his time as pastor, Flavin took to buying breakfast for leaders in the community as a way to get to know them and to build trust between Trinity and the city.

“It was about just sitting across the table, introducing myself, and asking a little about their organization,” says Flavin. “The vision we pitched from the beginning was, we don’t want to just do trendy things. We want to do things that benefit this whole community.”

Even with this outward-oriented vision, Flavin had to eat lots of meals to build that trust. As he found in his conversations with city leaders, experienced government officials in Brown Deer had heard Flavin’s pitch from other churches before—and ultimately, those churches didn’t follow through. Those prior experiences made government officials wary of engaging another church in a community-building partnership.

Flavin and the community at Trinity took a different approach, though. There were the relationship-building breakfasts, for one. There was also Flavin’s commitment to being a neighbor and leader within the city. After he successfully coordinated the town’s Christmastime tree-lighting event, community leaders could see that he wasn’t just “doing this for himself or for the church,” as he puts it.

Over time, Trinity developed mutual relationships with several organizations in the city. The church spearheads an annual community block party and other local events where the congregation meets new community organizations and deepens relationships with others. For Flavin and the Trinity congregation, their commitment to “neighbors knowing their neighbors” comes from the conviction that “to most fully live into our God-given design is to live a missional life,” he says. And the city has noticed.

“It’s hard to put into words how much I appreciate the leadership of Pastor Flavin when it comes to the church’s community outreach efforts and willingness to work with village government,” says Michael Kass, Brown Deer police chief. “I believe his leadership within the church is instrumental in the church’s involvement and high level of volunteerism we experience in the Village of Brown Deer.”

Now Flavin is a part of regular community leader meetings; the church, the local school district, the health department, and other local organizations meet monthly to discuss needs and opportunities in the community. It was there that Flavin brought up an opportunity from Trinity: adults in the church were considering a new summer sports camp for children and wanted to make the camp available to children throughout Brown Deer. If the camp was to be for the community, it should be in the community, they thought. The church wondered whether they could host the camp at a local community site.

“What was amazing was, by the end of the meeting, we had offers lined up for all kinds of stuff,” says Flavin. “They said, ‘You can have this park and this park, and you can have this school.’ So literally we had this embarrassment of riches of choices.”

The fieldhouse of the local high school was set to be the location for the sports camp. As for equipment, Trinity called on another local partnership for help.

“We just called the YMCA, who we’ve worked with on a number of events, and said, ‘Hey, can you help us out?’” says Flavin. “And they were like, ‘No big deal, pick them up next week, here’s twenty bats, twenty helmets.’ And we as a church really celebrate that. There’s a sense of marveling at God doing that, but also of saying—almost in a good way—‘Of course that happened, because these are the relationships we have.’”

Trinity hosted the sports camp during the last week of June. Almost 60 kids from Trinity and the wider community attended to play baseball, basketball, and soccer, and to learn about perseverance and faith from the story of Nehemiah. Nearly the same number of adults from Trinity’s 90-person congregation volunteered to make the camp happen.

Many of the church’s current adult members came to Trinity because they noticed the church’s commitment to the wider village of Brown Deer through events like this one. But for Flavin, there’s more to the story than seeking new members.

“We’re doing this because God put our church in this community, in this specific spot, at this moment in time, to make Brown Deer a better place,” he said. “If on the way to doing that God in his great sense of humor brings people to our church because they want to be a part of that, perfect. They’re exactly where they need to be. But we’re not doing sports camp and tree lighting as a church growth plan. We’re doing this because we believe this is going to bless our community, and the rest is in his hands.”

Natalia Connelly

Natalia Connelly is a student at Western Theological Seminary and a chaplain resident at Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services in Grand Rapids, Michigan.