Have churches given up on the pursuit of community? Pastor Brad House, director of community for Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Wash., sees an alarming trend in that direction.
"I have recently noticed churches giving up on the notion that community is an essential component of church life. Many are deciding that community is an optional experience that is helpful but not elemental to being a healthy disciple of Jesus. I think this is a significant mistake," he writes.
In a four-part series titled "How to Serve Your Community," House explores the mission and role of a church within its community.
House believes that being part of the local community is essential for the Christian life. He writes, "Our communities should be the most palpable expression of the Gospel within the church. As culture reflects the values of its citizens, Community Groups reflect the values of the church."
But House said sometimes it can be "easy to neglect or devalue Community Groups within the sea of programs churches provide."
For House, programs such as social justice, overseas missions, youth programs, food banks, and sports ministries are beneficial, but "they are not the center of God's mission. They are support tools through which a gospel-saturated community can intentionally engage the world."
Community outreaches have big impacts when the church has a clear mission and a balanced approach to community groups and discipleship.
"We want to make the mission of the church accessible to the members of the church so that they are not paralyzed by the vision but instead are inspired toward ownership and participation," House writes.
Elevation Church in Charlotte, N.C., for instance, has made participation in community outreach one of the main goals of its attendees.
This week it is hosting an initiative called LOVE Week. Volunteers are working in locations across the city to clean-up parks, improve schools, feed the hungry and homeless, and serve the poor.
Elevation's spokesperson Tonia Bendickson told The Christian Post in an earlier interview that "LOVE Week is the best opportunity for us to make an impact for our city. We partner with dozens [of] organizations like hospitals, senior centers, and schools."
She said that Elevation is not giving up or retreating from the community. "We definitely believe in the power of community. We believe 'the thing I'm a part of is so much greater than the part I play,'" Bendickson said.
Each community is different and House said that "to hear the beat of your community you need to be in it, walking it, and talking to people." To build a Community Group that leaves a lasting Gospel effect on your neighborhood, the goal is to know as much about the neighborhood as possible.
House said that in the midst of the comprehensive aim of reaching the community, "The best leaders become students of their mission field. As you become better at observing culture and rhythms, you will be more effective in reaching people for Jesus and you will become better at shepherding your group to become healthier disciples of Christ."