4 Tips for Increasing Your Church’s Community Impact
During Aspen Group’s 2018 Alignment Conference, Josh Gregoire, Church Relations Coordinator for Aspen, facilitated a panel discussion about structuring churches to help them regain impact in their communities. The panel included three influential church leaders: Dave Davis, Parkview Community Church; Matt DeMateo, New Life Centers of Chicagoland; Mike Martin, All Nations Worship Assembly.
Here are four tips these leaders shared for increasing your church's impact in your community:1. Listen to God and your community.
The panel agreed—seek God first when it comes to choosing a community to invest in. Then, listen to the community and discover their needs.
“When we listened to the Lord and went to the inner city, we realized we needed to reach people by speaking to the human condition,” said Mike Martin. “Everyone has hurts, pains, and experiences—we don't shy away from those experiences. We had to find their biggest struggles, like broken families, and then begin to build resources around those needs.”
To answer their community’s deep need, Martin shared how All Nations Worship Assembly recently launched a Christian counseling program as part of their Solutions Center, a community needs-based ministry center. “We have pastoral counselors and licensed counselors on staff. Sometimes, I think we neglect the need for actual counseling in church. We realized the need and began to do outreach to help bring people into the ministry through our counseling center and programs.”
Martin said they’ve also learned more about the lack of identity people in the inner city sometimes experience, and the resulting attraction to negative gang influences. As one response, the church began a campaign called “Find Identity Here” and mobilized a team of 160 people to interact with the community around this idea.
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2. Embrace the power of place.
“I've been on an 18-year learning journey about the power of place, the theology of place,” says Matt DeMateo. “It was a wake-up call for us when a local nonprofit did a quality-of-life study in our community. This document looked at schools, businesses, and all kinds of needs. In the middle of it, there was a list of 10 churches and New Life was nowhere on the map. We realized that if our building were to burn to the ground that day, nobody would care.”
He encourages churches to do some self-evaluation and ask, “If our church were to leave today, would there be a community outcry? Would there be people protesting because they really feel that our church is needed in the community?”
New Life explored how to bring the church to the neighborhood instead of bringing the neighborhood to the church for programs. With the help of a local mentor who reminded them that place matters, their teams began showing up in places where God was already at work.
“Every week for an hour, we'd set up a one-on-one with somebody in the community. It wasn’t for the purpose of telling them about our church. Instead, we said, ‘I just want to get to know you as a community member, a gas station owner, the local business owner, the librarian, and so on.’ There is power in that. After a year of just showing up in the neighborhood, that's when God really started to say, ‘Okay, you're ready.’ We learned it's not about us, the name of our church or our ministry, but it’s about the Kingdom. That’s where our world turned upside down. We were on a different path from there.”
3. Invest in partnerships and seek to learn.
Dave Davis says they changed their definition of a partnering relationship. He shared, “Rather than being a resourcing church for someone, we have shifted our idea of partnership and instead focus on what we can we learn together.” Initially, this meant trimming their list of partners and taking the time to seek God about where to invest.
“The first place we jumped in was with an organization in India that was focused on child poverty. Whenever we partner, we try to learn from them as much as we allow them to learn from us. We approach our domestic relationships from that perspective, too. In India, we learned that so much of what we were seeing was related to human trafficking, which led us to work in Chicago.
“We established a ministry called ‘New Name,’ which goes into the massage parlors and strip clubs in the Chicago area. The women of New Name befriend the women in this industry, and they love them out of the industry. This took us back to the recovery homes we have in India. It's this back-and-forth. We don't do anything domestically that we can't do internationally. We don't do anything internationally that we can't do domestically. It’s how we keep things in alignment.”
4. Develop teams of equipped and committed leaders.
Matt DeMateo says in the early days of their ministry, it was all about faithful consistency and showing up. “This didn’t necessarily qualify you as a leader, but we built our ministry on whoever we had. In the early years, we had a guy who was a nurse that quit his job and volunteered full-time for a year, living off his wife's salary to help build this ministry. You can't build a business plan off something like that. But now, as we've grown quite a bit larger, we’re taking local men and women from the neighborhood, who have done 20 years of street outreach, and we’re empowering them as our leadership team. It is messy, but my style is ‘leadership together.’ I'm not into power structures."
Mike Martin notes, “For us, the biggest thing is flexibility—being able to change and adapt to changes. You may be in a position today that may not be your position two years from now. If you get married to your position, that’s a problem. But when you have flexibility, we can move you around. We select our leaders by developing them. We are huge on leadership development and training, and then we deploy. We have courses and programs where we train people. Then, the ‘star students’ from those position trainings are placed.”
How is your church reaching deeper into your community to make an impact?
About the Panel:
Dave Davis currently serves as lead pastor of Parkview Community Church in Glen Ellyn, IL. Prior to this role, he served as Executive Pastor of Parkview since 2009, where he worked with leaders to develop people, resources, and systems to advance the mission, vision, and strategy of Parkview.
Matt DeMateo began serving as a pastor full-time with New Life Community Church in 2006. For years, he has overseen all of the community development efforts and helped start the Urban Life Skills Program. ULS is an intensive, community-based mentoring program for youth that was recently recognized as the top mentoring program in the state of Illinois. In 2013, Matt became the Executive Director of New Life Centers of Chicagoland.
Mike Martin is a communicator, strategist, author, and brand specialist. He currently serves as the Executive Pastor and Chief Operating Officer at All Nations Worship Assembly, which includes seven national locations. Mike is responsible for the ministry’s business operations and communications, including brand development, public relations, and creative direction.
Originally hired as a Design Technician for Aspen Group, Josh later served as Project Developer Assistant. These experiences helped cultivate his clear, unwavering vision for and loyalty to Aspen Group as a design-build partner for churches. In 2014, he assumed the role of Church Relations Coordinator, Aspen’s first point of contact with churches.