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A s the initial shock of the pandemic is waning, we are now trying to imagine the long-term effects of COVID-19 and what they mean for our churches and communities. The process of returning to “normal” will encompass constant changes in social distancing guidelines that impact our local economy, institutions, and culture.

Connect with your communities

It’s more important than ever for the church to stay connected to our local communities to engage their ever-shifting hopes and dreams. We invite you to continue to engage your missional imagination with the following suggestions.

Keep informed

The church’s first and main goal is to reduce the chance of people becoming sick or dying from the pandemic. The guidelines for social distancing will be shifting and changing as time goes on, and it’s crucial that we set an example by following the guidelines of our city, state or province, and country.

Re-entry into the new normal will be a process. As the church, we need to be aware what the process is in order to be connected to our community. The only way the church can do mission is to be informed of what is going on in the society at large.

Listen to the community

This season has been and is being marked by severe loss, including loss of jobs, social connection, memory-making milestones, and so much more. Although returning to normal will offer chances to celebrate and recoup, many will still experience ongoing loss. We need to be sensitive and present in order to meet people where they are at in the journey. Therefore, listening to those in our community is one of the most crucial steps to being a good neighbor in this season.

Listening to the community involves a posture of learning and empathy. It’s the practice of simply sitting with people as they share their hopes, dreams, and struggles so we can come alongside them in engaging and meaningful ways. Without listening, we make assumptions about what their needs are, we don’t build mutual relationships, and we miss out on opportunities to minister. Whether it’s individuals in your church or community, local institutions, or local businesses, it’s important to hear from them what the felt needs will be as the sands shift around them.

We also need to ask ourselves: Are we in the right spaces to listen? Maybe this is an opportunity for your church to build bridges throughout your neighborhood. If you not sure where to start, here are some ideas on how to start listening to your community:

  • Connect with your congregation members. Ask them what they are hearing in their social networks about what the needs are. Your congregation members are great assets to keep a finger on the pulse of what is going on in the community.
  • Make a list of all the potential institutional partners in your community, including non-profits, nursing homes, schools, business, and neighborhood associations. Then connect with them via email or a phone call to ask how you can support and serve them.
  • Go on regular prayer walks throughout your community. Take notice and see how your neighbor is changing during this season, talk to your neighbors from a safe distance, and listen to the Holy Spirit to see where it is at work in your community.

Partner with the community

Once we hear the hopes, dreams, and needs of our community, we can look at the assets we have in our church and think of creative ways in which to partner with our community. Every church has something critical to offer their neighbors. It is often just about taking the time to intentionally sit down and create a list of all the gifts your church has to offer and some creativity to leverage them. Here are some different kinds of assets, along with some questions to help you name them in your context.

  • Physical assets: meeting rooms, playground, kitchen, vans, sound equipment, etc.
    • What are two or three physical assets of your congregation that could be used to engage the community?
    • What are other physical assets of your congregation that you would not have thought of at first? Think creatively! Be specific.
  • Individual assets: talents, experience, and skills of your church members
    • How can you build your awareness of the talents, experience, and skills of your church members?
    • What are some skills that can be shared virtually with the larger community?
  • Community assets: community connections
    • What institutions are your church members already involved in?
    • What institutions have something in common with your congregation? How could you collaborate?
  • Economic assets: church finances
    • What percentage of your church’s budget goes to engaging the larger community?
  • Spiritual assets: dig deeper by listening to God
    • Where do you see the Holy Spirit at work in your community?

Finding the sweet spot

The sweet spot of community engagement is the intersection of the capacities of your church with the dreams of the community. In a season of change, this will be a moving target, but one worth pursuing. Once you find that harmony, you will be able to stay focused on the mission, keep from burning out, validate people’s gifts and humanity, and bear witness to the love of Christ. Above all, by listening to and engaging with your community, your church can actively be the hands and feet of Jesus, right in your own neighborhood!

Photo of the author, Ed Rodriguez
Eduardo Rodriguez

Eduardo Rodriguez is Leadership and Local Missional Engagement specialist for the Reformed Church in America.