Are We Missing an Opportunity?

I have always believed (and experienced) that the Church is the greatest force for good in this world and their communities. Some more than others, of course. And I have always prayed for and looked for ways to make that more of a reality--and a visible one--in the churches I've served.

I've been honored over the years to be a part of thriving faith communities that have offered daily day care to children and seniors, visited lonely prisoners and nursing home patients, served weekly or monthly meals to those in need, given away backpacks to schoolkids, offered free oil changes to single parents, and more. I love it.

But I can't help but wonder if--even with all that--most churches are missing a golden opportunity.

These tough economic times present many challenges for states, communities, schools, and churches. Programs are being cut. Communities are changing. So much is changing, and so much of it seems to be for the worse. It is rough. But I wonder why we church folk don't more often see these changes as open doors for ministry, for giving value to our communities.

When I preach a sermon or write a book, one of the first things I try to do is connect with listeners or readers by hitting a nerve, touching a soft spot, meeting a need that they already had--and knew they had--before they began worship or started reading. We need to do that sort of thing not only as preachers and writers, but also as churches. We need to benefit our communities not only with evangelistic programs or Bible studies, but by meeting needs they feel keenly and daily. For example:

1. Music, art, and drama lessons. The arts are often the first victims when schools face lean times and have to make budget cuts. Many churches can offer free or low-cost lessons by gifted musicians, artists, and thespians with talent they already possess. In fact, my faith background, The Salvation Army, continues to produce some of the finest musicians, vocalists, and other artists in the world, and has always offered free lessons to all comers. But few folks in the community are aware of these opportunities.

2. ESL or SSL classes. Many look at the growing immigrant population in our communities as a threat, or at least a problem to be solved. But what an opportunity it presents for the church! Why not serve both Latino and English-speaking communities? Anglo congregations can (and sometimes do) offer English-as-a-Second-Language classes and Latino congregations can help their neighbors learn Spanish while building relationships (and bridges) at the same time. I'd sign up for the latter in a heartbeat. Or a salsa beat.

3. Community gardens. With the rising cost of groceries, I wish we could convert the large lawns many churches and churchgoers possess into community gardens to teach and feed. Like the garden pictured above, in the Over-the-Rhine area of urban Cincinnati.

These are just a few of the opportunities I think we may be missing...opportunities to bless our communities, to get out of our Sunday-and-Wednesday ghettos, open doors, make new friends, and well, hey, maybe just answer some prayers.

So what do you think? Am I crazy? Or loco como un zorro? Are there other opportunities you think the church ought to be seizing?

(photo: Wyatt Baker)

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