Life, love and location

Mike Betts on Lowestoft Beach

Life, love and location are three words at the heart of effective strategies to reach our local communities. Progress may be slow but the church is beginning to be noticed again in the nation.

One crucial element is being prepared to serve the community through ways that genuinely bless people regardless of whether or not they come to know Christ. To have the local church held in high regard in a local community is an aim worth pursuing. It includes seeking to establish credibility in a culture where for many years the church has lost credibility. Reputation has to be regained through action and not just words alone.
A community initiative should not flow from a bright idea at a leader’s meeting. Rather, the ‘LIFE’ of God, expressed in gifting, passion and calling, from individuals within our congregations should be allowed to percolate through.
Linda, one of our church members works with adults with learning disabilities. In church one day she thought, ‘Why not introduce them to church?’ A few conversations later at work and church and these dear friends began attending church. They’ve been attending for some while now and love it and are fully integrated, their carers also enjoy the meetings. We have developed a weekly group meeting for them which amongst other things has helped them to find Jesus. When one of them sadly died recently, the care home manager said to the church at the funeral, ‘Thank you for introducing Frank to your Jesus’.

Stories like this would never happen unless we leaders allow the ‘LIFE’ of God within our people to be expressed out there in the community. Leadership skill is required as not every project can be launched at the same time. It is often a test of good character if someone with a passion for a project is willing to have it held in check for a season. However we must recognise that the things God wants us to do in our communities are likely to spring from the people He has called and gifted and uniquely placed in our churches. What ‘LIFE’ is in your local church that needs unleashing?

Friend of the Family was set up by Lowestoft Community Church over three years ago as a response to identifying unmet community needs. Loneliness is a huge issue in our community and the project offers low level befriending support to families and individuals who are isolated and vulnerable. This project has seen fruit because it is driven and motivated by ‘LOVE’. A good strategy has helped – trained volunteers recruited from the church membership receive support and updating on a regular basis from the project co-ordinator.

Louise was referred by her health visitor. Her partner had moved out leaving her isolated and suicidal as she faced many financial and practical problems. In time she accompanied her volunteer to church and was amazed by the new friendships she made and the family she discovered, and has since made a commitment to Christ and has been baptised. Louise is supported by her cell group and many church members. She has grown in confidence and self esteem and has developed amazingly as she enjoys all the benefits of knowing she is loved by God and being in a family where she is loved, accepted and supported. Louise is now a natural evangelist telling everyone she meets how God has helped her and that He can help them as well.

A Sure Start Support Worker referred Maria to Friend of the Family as she felt Maria needed longer term befriending and support than she was able to offer. Maria had been brought up in a Muslim family and had come to our town fleeing domestic violence. She was very low and isolated and had found it very difficult to make new friends. After many weeks and months of visits she eventually came along to church following an invitation from another lady we had supported. Maria was overwhelmed by the love and acceptance which made her cry – all part of the much needed healing process. As yet she hasn’t made a commitment to Christ but her life has been changed by “belonging before believing” which often is a pathway towards finding Jesus. Maria has benefitted from people around her demonstrating love and acceptance which has given her a new freedom to start a new life.
We must not underestimate the power of simple acts of kindness that demonstrate the love of God. The local church has so much to offer folk who are lonely and isolated. They often discover an amazing family that offers them much more than anything they’ve found in their communities through established voluntary and statutory agencies.

Touching our communities is not just about finding creative ideas and expressing them with love. It is often about location. We can forget how intimidating it can be for someone who has never been into a church building or meeting of any kind to walk in and feel comfortable. It is quite a step for someone to do this. Therefore just as Jesus engaged with the community in public places and not just at the synagogue, God has given us in the UK a great new set of venues. What are they? Coffee Houses! Starbucks has championed the cause of the ‘third place’. We all need a home, a place of work and then a third place. This used to be the church, now it is the coffee house or the pub or the gym.

Last year we decided to try something more radical for our Youth Alpha course. We ran it at Costa Coffee Shop in the High Street at Lowestoft, rather than meeting at the church or in homes as in the past. It was a huge success, we saw large numbers of young people attending Costa each Sunday night and the chilled out atmosphere and trendy coffee shop vibe really made Youth Alpha the cool place to be. We implemented live talks in the coffee shop and then let the group discussion disperse over the two floors of the shop. This Alpha course saw lives touched and the youth leaders built up great friendships with staff at Costa and are looking to use the venue in other creative ways in the future.

Finding a user friendly ‘LOCATION’ can help people make the step to come along who might not find it so easy if it was on unfamiliar ground.

LIFE, LOVE, LOCATION – three words to help touch your community…

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