Impacting City and Church
When I led our first team to clean up the neighborhood around my home in the inner city, my instructions brought surprise. “Do not tell anyone about Jesus.”
Someone frowned. “But that’s not Christian.”
I put on my work gloves. “The Bible says we should always be ready to give an answer for the hope that lies within us,” I explained myself. “But we don’t want to give answers until someone asks us a question.”
More volunteers returned the following weekend to mow lawns and pick up trash as a second team worked on renovating a rundown home our church had acquired with help from its partners. We continued to show up and began to invite the neighbors to block parties or grill-outs, never sharing the gospel until someone asked a question.
From those early moments, our attempts to share our faith were no longer a pushy or awkward presentation of the gospel. The natural process of sharing our hearts came when we connected relationally with our neighbors. It didn’t take long before people had questions.
Not long after we began to serve our neighbors, a man came outside as we mowed his lawn.
“Who are you again?” he asked.
Shock and confusion crossed the man’s face. “I didn’t know churches did anything.”
Wow. What a statement.
Years later, after expanding to serve several more neighborhoods, we approached a woman’s house as she got home from work. Before she hurried inside, she turned toward our team. “I know who you guys are. You’re Bridge Church. You’re the ones who make it hard for people to say no to Jesus.”
Talk about a major shift. She summed up our hope to be light and salt.
When we are concerned for our community as much as our congregation, love outreaches are powerful. Not only do love outreaches help the church connect with unchurched people, the experience trains our congregation, shaping them into powerful witnesses who share their faith.
Giving church members a purpose changes the focus from self to others. Engaging with unchurched people from different backgrounds gets the churched out of their comfort levels and intentionally positions them in new relationships. With this deliberate shift, mature believers continue to grow as they lovingly interact with the unchurched. This new mindset focuses on reaching the lost like missionaries going to another culture. Talk about real transformation in Christ.
At Bridge Church, we serve together in two areas—loving our neighbors where there’s need and where we worship. This allows us to serve together side by side, providing a powerful training ground for faith. We not only sharpen one another, we encourage and elevate one another to greater impact.
Loving our neighbors where there’s need is serving where people face significant social challenges. We don’t want to just offer charity and do something good; we want to see real kingdom change. Getting involved is the key.
The power of working among brokenness is reciprocal; the very brokenness experienced by the congregation transforms them into humble and compassionate Christ followers. When brokenness enlarges our heart to be more like Christ, the fruit of the spirit naturally flows out of us in all our daily interactions.
Loving our neighbors where we worship connects us with the community surrounding our church building. Church leaders model extending Christ’s love outside the church walls using the strategy of three C’s—Connect, Care, Call. We want our approach to be relational, not a cold shoulder approach, offering only spiritual answers. We have no ulterior motive other than genuine love and acceptance of our neighbors who are created in the image of God. While we really do want to authentically connect with and care for our neighbors, we also have the hope of calling them to a relationship with Jesus.
As we practice loving our neighbors together, this spills over into our personal lives, and we begin loving our neighbors where we live. We get excited about the life of our church, so inviting others to church becomes less awkward and more natural.
Take Beth for example.
Beth began attending Bridge Church at the recommendation of some friends. During a sermon series which challenged our congregation to love their neighbors where they live, Beth took this to heart. She had served in both an area of need and where she worshipped, and now she couldn’t wait to love her own neighbors in the suburbs where she lived. She began to invite her neighbors to grill-outs, giving them a reason to hang out together. This turned into a movie night at a local park. Beth told her new friends about her transformation into a passionate follower of Christ and invited them to Bridge.
At last count, Beth was personally responsible for 15 different families attending church on a regular basis. The pastors began to lovingly call the area at church where she sat the Beth section. When our congregation takes responsibility for loving the neighbors where they live through the strategy of connect, care, call, the church will see incredible growth.
Like short-term missions, these life-changing experiences should be a consistent part of our discipleship plan. When our congregation practices loving our neighbors where there’s need and where we worship, they are empowered to love their neighbors where they live.
Talk about a faith-builder.
Our cities and churches will be impacted.