What if your church spent thousands of dollars and devoted thousands of hours on service projects around your city that made no impact? What if it turned out you were spending all those resources on projects on a mercy ministry that wasn’t really biblically merciful? Perhaps that sounds completely improbable but it happens all the time.

There’s a biblical mandate and a method of mercy and often times, our efforts miss that mark. Though our hearts are in the right place in these efforts, the ultimate goal is restoration for others in the city. There are four mistakes that the church can make and four things a church must do to make sure our impact is truly merciful and lasting.

Mistake 1: Promote community service

How would someone in your church describe your local missions efforts? Would they point to community service days, neighborhood clean up efforts, or clothing and food drives. When this is the case, people tend to think of service as an event, with a start and an end. Once the event is over, so is their service and they are left with a good feeling to carry them through the rest of the week. What motivates their action?

If people are serving their community because they want to “give back” then they will automatically assume a position of superiority over the one they are serving. This is not only unbiblical, but can be dehumanizing. The advantage, and dare I say appeal, of most community service is that it actually costs very little of us. It doesn’t impact our budget or our daily lives all that much. Once it is over, we can go back to the way we were before the event.

We often reference the story of the Good Samaritan as our example, but most of our efforts fall woefully short of this example Jesus offers to describe how to love our neighbor.

Mistake 2: Duplicate efforts by starting something “new”

Stop and think for a second…How many programs and ministries have your church started to serve others in the city? Now, think about how many churches are in your city. How many programs have they started? Usually, each of these have been started by Godly people who are seeking to love those around them.

There is also an unavoidable narcissism that creeps into every new venture that whispers, “If this succeeds, you will be the hero.” This narcissism is subtle, but I fear it has led too many people to start something “new.” The advice I give most people when they want to start something is that it almost always exists already.  \

Share this: Most cities don’t need another program or ministry. They need current ministries and programs to succeed.

Mistake 3: View people as projects

Are your city restoration efforts relational or transactional in nature? How many people have had their lives changed as a result of your local missions efforts? Can you name the people you have helped? The reality of most of our efforts is that they consist mainly of one-way transactions where people with financial resources give to those that have less.

This allows us to keep people and their problems at a safe arms distance, but we are left to wonder if those transactions actually help. We don’t know what happens next because we don’t know the person we have given to. People notice this, and so does the city.

Mistake 4: Seek the welfare of your church

You may be thinking, isn’t this a little crazy? What if something happens? What if we get taken advantage of? What if someone gets hurt, or worse? We don’t have the budget for this. The root of all of these thoughts is a desire to protect our church and ourselves. If the primary concern of the church is the comfort and safety of the church, it is obvious to the city around it, and to the people they seek to serve.

Mistake 5: Ignore training and networking opportunities

Do you have other churches and organizations that you’re connected to that are on the cutting edge of biblical resources and training? Do you have a support network that will help you make great decisions about what’s next for your church?

These mistakes can be crippling and a big waste of time, resources and money. But they are avoidable. Here are five solutions:

1. Teach biblical mercy

Apart from Christ, we are poor, needy, enslaved, broken, and desperate. We don’t help because we have so much, we help because we are no different. This perspective alters the way we think about service. Service changes from an event to an identity. It also puts the proper perspective on any cost or pain we may endure in the process.

Imagine if the church understood biblical mercy, which starts with Christ leaving everything and laying down his life so that we could have it. What if the church was so captivated by the mercy of God toward us that it actually produced the rivers of living water flowing from us into our city that our scripture tells us about? As long as our mission’s strategy remains disconnected from mercy, it will be ineffective.

2. Create solutions

How could your church create real solutions to the problems plaguing your city?  There are no doubt unique gifts and strengths in your body that could be an incredible asset to the rest of the city.  There are government agencies, non-profits, social workers, foundations and many other people who share your love and vision for a restored city.

The problem is, they don’t see the church as a relevant solution to this problem. It would be an amazing picture of unity for the church to stop creating duplicative programs and start investing their time, money, and resources in helping other groups succeed. I would contend that it would also be a better stewardship of resources and ultimately more successful.

3. Develop people through relationships

Look to the model we have been given in Christ who loved deeply, took time for individuals, and taught his disciples to do the same.  Developing people requires relationships and relationships are messy and complicated.

Share this: What if we called our church to know the poor before we gave to the poor?

4. Seek the welfare of your city

Jeremiah 29:11 may be one of the most quoted passages used to encourage others. Ironically, that verse actually falls in the middle of a passage where God is telling a conquered and exiled Israel to remain in Babylon and make it their home. He tells them to seek the welfare of their city.

It is in the midst of this difficult calling to make a foreign land their home and seek the prosperity of the city and a people that have conquered them, that he gives them the comfort of Jeremiah 29:11.

5. Seek out training and networking opportunities

Get connected to organizations like the For The City Network, who provide ongoing and intensive training and networking opportunities so that your church can be an effective salt and light in your city.

The For the City Network can help

These are the questions that led us to start the For the City Network, a non-profit in Austin that seeks the welfare of our city by maximizing and catalyzing individual, community, and city restoration efforts. For the last five years, we have been working to restore our city and we have learned a lot along the way. To help others accelerate the learning curve, we have developed a two-day training we call an Intensive.

Intensives are hands-on trainings where you can learn from an experienced network with a vision and practical strategy for city renewal. Capped at 15 people to ensure a customized learning experience, the Intensive includes

  • vision casting
  • neighborhood tours
  • exclusive resources
  • strategic planning 
  • and more!

All of these crafted experiences and resources are there to help you build out practical next steps for your church to take toward city renewal and holistic ministry.

We’ve designed this Intensive as a way to be exposed to proven strategies and different restoration efforts. This is an opportunity you will not want to miss! Begin exploring what God has for your church and your city!

CLICK HERE for more info and resources about building a more effective church in your city.