Saturday, June 9, 2012

The Church as the Social Center of the Community - Part Three

In my previous two posts I talked about how the church needs to use various social events as a way to re-establish itself as the social center for the community and I went on to say that the way to promote those events was to use technology and social media because that is how most younger adults communicate. Though I strongly believe in tying technology to our outreach events, I think it is important to realize that just having a nice website or an active Facebook page is not enough to help the church regain its position as the social center of the community. Remember, the church is really the people, not the building. Therefore, small churches should be looking for ways to engage people relationally so that they will be able to share the gospel with them.

It is difficult to engage people relationally until we have spent time with them. Relationship building is not a program. It is a process that requires face-to-face interaction. Technology can connect us to the next generation initially, but then we must use those connections to build real relationships.

For example, every Wednesday is Youth Night at Faith Community Church of Barre, Vermont, which is a blue-collar community of only 8,837. Though church attendance is affected by the various sports seasons, normally fifty-five to sixty-five teenagers participate each week. When the official program is over and the crowd begins to disperse, a few stragglers who do not yet want to go home linger behind. These stragglers enjoy being together. These teenagers often ask the deepest questions of the youth workers after most of the other youth have left. The leaders frequently end up at McDonald’s with these stragglers for a late-night snack. The group sits around McDonald’s laughing, talking, and eating, holding what they jokingly refer to as “McChurch.”

Though casual observers watching the group at McDonald’s may not realize what they are seeing, those who watch more closely will realize that it is very much a spiritual experience at the McChurch. In that moment, the group is being the church. Though they may not have their Bibles open in a formal Bible study, their lives are open, and they display the truths of the Bible lived out in real-life experience. Though they may not verbally sing praise songs to Jesus, their hearts are filled with praise, and the laughter on their lips honors the one for whom they live their lives.

Though it might not look spiritual, what happens at McDonald’s has a profound spiritual impact on those who regularly participate because they know they belong to a solid group of Christians who love God and one another.

A sense of belonging comes from the relationships that are built during this time at McDonald’s. The relationships that are built there are as vital in the evangelism and discipleship process as the lesson that was taught during the regular church service. In a day when half of all marriages end in divorce and many children grow up isolated from their extended families, young people often do not have the support they need to live successful lives. Giving them safe, healthy, and wholesome places to be together builds a sense of community. When done in a Christian context, it can be one of the most effective tools the church can use to reach young people. Whether that sense of community is created in the actual church building or in a McDonald’s, the result is the same. Young people need to feel like they belong.

 Adapted from Terry Dorsett’s book, Mission Possible: Reaching the Next Generation through the Small Church, published by CrossBooks, a division of Lifeway Christian Resources.

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