Community & Outreach
David made some good points about my discussion of community. He pointed out that our connection to community goes beyond just church growth, but also includes social outreach. I totally agree, but I want to explore some other dynamics that go along with that.
One of the other characteristics of our particular "mobile/transient" congregration is that many people are involved in outreach efforts not connected with our church. Some people volunteer through work or other social organizations that they're involved with. Many of the opportunities are also tied to their faith. So I think one of the difficulties we have in getting people to commit is not that they don't recognize the place of social outreach in their christian faith, but that they're already reaching out in ways that fit their particular needs and interests.
So if that's the case, what is our congregational response? Do we just say, "Cool! Let us know if we can help you?" Or, "That's great, but you need to be involved with the particular missions of this church." Or?
What I'm getting at is that I think we need to answer the question of whether church is the primary outlet/mechanism for our social outreach, or is it a place that supports the outreach efforts of our members wherever/whatever they might be?
I'll readily admit that I don't know the answer. I think in the United Methodist tradition we do a decent job of letting people know the proper place of outreach in our faith. But I think as churches become a part of our social networks rather than the locus, things get more complicated. In small churches, particularly, it is difficult to offer a range of outreach opportunities that will meet the needs/desires of all of our members. This is an opportunity for building on our connecting missions with other churches, but it also leads people to pursue their interests with other organizations - and I'm not sure that's all bad.
I think the challenge is probably to find a balance and figure out a way that we can help people meet their needs and do outreach effectively.