It’s all about a preposition…
A few years ago I read a book called, For The City, by Darrin Patrick and Matt Carter. Both were pastors in very different cities, who managed to see the city as a place they wanted to live, they wanted their church to exist, and they wanted to partner. They saw the community around them differently than so many churches.
The idea behind the book revolved around the preposition, for. A lot of churches stand against their city. Some stand with their city. Others feel above their city. While still many other operate behind their city.
The preposition for establishes a great relationship with church to city/community. There may be times a church cannot get behind their city officials’ decisions. Often it’s difficult to stand with a city. But being for your city means that you want your home to thrive. You’re cheering on every issue to work for the benefit of the city and its citizens.
As a new church in downtown Las Vegas, Downtown Faith has decided to be for this community. We are hyper-focused on downtown, its revitalization, and its growth as a place to live, work, and play. The very strategy we have as a church to help people follow Jesus is designed around the nature and character of the people who exist in this part of the city.
What we do is unique and may not work in every context. We’re okay with that. We don’t exist in every context. We exist in downtown Las Vegas. We love this messy, beautiful, exciting, artistic, tension-filled community. We are cheering for downtown. And we’ve taken it one step further, we are working for this city and its good every week!
While our context may be unique, the principles we’ve discovered about being for the community are not. Here are a few things we are observing about being for the city.
Being a community of faith your community has faith in…
- Have a presence. Many churches have a building, a sign or two, and even a ministry focused on helping their community. But I’ve learned that even having these things doesn’t mean your community truly feels it knows you. Nothing helps a community trust a church like the church being present with the community. How many things is your church involved in that doesn’t serve your church’s agenda? You’re simply there to “be” with people however they need you. How many programs does your church run that pulls its people away from their surrounding community? When’s the last time your pastor was uncomfortably present at a city event or with a marginalized sub-group? These are important questions to ask.
- Have an impact. A great weekend service might be fun, but it’s not enough. Churches need to have a real impact on their city. Whether that’s moving locations to place yourself in an impoverished area, or establishing a much needed non-profit to operate throughout the week on your property, your community is looking for your impact. They won’t trust you until it exists. Side note: giving water to rich people and inviting them to your services isn’t the right kind of impact.
- Have a voice. Does your city, its officials, and its people trust you when you talk? When you make a statement publicly, are you believable? In a day and time where tweeting and blogging and Facebook are public forums with which to express yourself, people are listening to your church. What are you saying? How are you saying it? The answer to these questions will determine whether or not people are even listening when you speak.
How we began this journey in downtown Las Vegas…
- From the moment I was released from my ministry in another area of the city I began to be as present as I could in downtown. Eventually I found an opportunity to connect weekly at a networking event. I was able to volunteer. I was meeting people, having conversations, and being more and more trusted as a leader. There’s opportunities for pastors and people in the church to build trust through presence in every community. For me it was a talk show with a live audience and drinks after on the rooftop bar. That’s Vegas. For you it may be different. But it’s still there.
- The first thing our “church” did as an organization (with like 5 people) was our Laundry Project. This project allowed us to partner with an already existing organization to have impact on our neighbors. We still do this project several times a year. Every time it’s unique. But every time it makes an impact. We hope to grow this project even more in the future.
- Having a voice in this community was of utmost importance for our leadership. We needed buy-in. We needed people to join the discussion. So, having a voice meant having a listening ear, first. We created our blog to share and our podcast to listen. We would ask people what they believed and why. We would welcome anyone, just as they were. We genuinely want to know. Our podcast gave us a voice. Also, our PubTheology events were a great way to listen well. For many, this was their first step in joining us for regular discussions on Sundays.
This is what we do and why we do it. We want to be trusted. We want our city and community to see us as an ally. We love this city. We love the downtown community. We are already dreaming of how we can increase out presence, impact, and voice in 2018!