“I’m a pastor, not a warehouse manager,” Rev. Leigh Goodrich said to the church trustees when they complained that they had no free space to store things anymore. “I’m not here to deal with your stuff. At least not that stuff.” Leigh’s church had been in the process of making space for a preschool, a new partner gained during the pandemic, when the complaint arose. Leigh remained unruffled. While she encouraged the trustees to continue clearing out the junk they had been storing for years, Leigh kept her focus on the church’s partnership with the community via the preschool. As a result of this partnership, the church came out of debt during the pandemic.
How can your church partner with your community? It may feel challenging, even impossible, especially if your congregation is set in its ways. But it’s worth doing. Forming partnerships with your community opens the door for both your town or city and the church to be blessed beyond expectation.
Through completing research for my new book, Forging a New Path: Moving the Church Forward in a Post-Pandemic World, I talked with church leaders from all over the country. Together, we discovered the four ways that are most effective for not only creating beneficial partnerships, but also creating those that will last.
Before I share the four ways that you can partner with your community, I want to make you aware of one pitfall to avoid. Don’t get caught up in thinking that there is only one way to accomplish this. Partnership can take on many forms. It all depends on your context. Read on to see what can work in your setting.
Partner with Your Community to Support Mental Health
This is the time to rebuild community. Children especially need a sense of community. For most young children, all they know is pandemic life, one separated from their peers, their teachers, and any feeling of stability and structure. This isolation eats away at mental health. The partnership between Leigh’s church and the preschool, for example, has the built-in benefit of helping those who know no difference to begin rebuilding their own sense of community. The mental health benefits positively impact parents, teachers, and the congregation.
Partner with Your Community to Celebrate
Adults, too, are recovering from feelings of isolation and struggling to regain normalcy. One of the best ways to rebuild is through celebration. Look around you. There are people, places, and things to celebrate everywhere! Widen your focus beyond those you go to church with to include all members of your community. Find people to celebrate: young people, doctors, nurses, essential workers, and restaurant servers. It’s time for the church to re-focus her time and energy away from survival to serving the community in which she is planted. Have a celebration in the community for the community. For example, if someone completes probation, jail time, prison time, celebrate them. When someone hits a milestone in recovery, celebrate them. When someone changes their circumstances in some way or renews their vows, celebrate them. Be a physical reminder of God’s partnership with those God loves.
Celebration is also good for the soul. It’s even a key component of healthy emotional intelligence. It draws communities together, builds bonds of happiness, and deepens your faith. It marks progress and invites you to praise God. Celebrations are important markers that anchor a person’s memory and participation. You never know what will happen when the community feels valued, loved, and connected. Celebration is a great place to start!
Partner with Your Community to Create Belonging
“One of the things that I’ve realized,” noted Rev. Leigh Goodrich, “is that Jesus didn’t walk around going, ‘Oh, I’m so poor. I don’t have any money. I gotta live in a deficit budget. What am I going to do?’ No. Jesus walked around looking for opportunities to help other people.” And Jesus used what He had in the moment: dirt from the ground mixed with spit to heal the man born blind; his words and hands to call the man to stand, pick up his mat, and walk; simple water basins to make wine for the wedding celebration. As the body of Christ, you have been blessed in order to bless your community. Your greatest asset may be your building. Use it to create belonging instead of excluding people. When you see the building as a community asset, rather than only a church asset, you pave the way for your building to expand your culture, and provide a place of security and belonging, rather than a place walled off to others.
Partner with Your Community to Balance Your Budget
When the church focuses more on the community than itself, unexpected blessings emerge. As the Trustees at Leigh’s church cleared out years of junk, they found they could welcome even more partners. “Because of two very strong partners that we have—an organization that helps with women’s breast cancer survival and a preschool—we eventually balanced our budget. We were in the hole $35,000 to $45,000 a year, and we balanced that out during the pandemic because we were willing to share sacred space.”
To build successful partnerships that bless them and you, seek out organizations whose values are aligned with the values of your church. Find groups that could benefit from spiritual guidance, help bring events to your town, host seminars that educate and uplift, or celebrate the goodness of life. Truly see yourselves as partners, and not simply organizations occupying the same building. But, before anyone moves in, make sure to clear out space and get rid of things that are no longer needed.
You may be thinking, “Yes, I hear what you’re saying, and that all sounds great. But our church is struggling. We can’t help the community when we can’t help ourselves.” That’s fair. Many churches find themselves in places where their desire is strong and the resources are few. I invite you to join me for my next workshop, “How to Do More with Less,” where we’ll explore what we have “less” of and how we can leverage what we do have to do “more” than we ever dreamed.
Excerpted and adapted from Rebekah’s upcoming book, Forging a New Path: Moving the Church Forward in a Post-Pandemic World (Market Square Publishers, 2022).
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