How to get a church to engage in a community

By Keith Wieser

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” This quote, most often attributed to Peter Drucker, has been used by countless leaders over the years to remind us that if our metrics and strategies do not take root in the heart of the people we lead, they will fail. It was this quote that hung in the Ford war room in 2005 when the company came up with an ambitious plan to save itself from bankruptcy.

It was this quote that stuck in our minds when we were trying to answer the question “How do we actually get our church to engage our community and live on mission?” We had the strategies for reaching our community, we had a vision, we even had leaders, but there was something missing. We didn’t have people actually engaging the community in a missional way. Our culture showed the disconnect between the comprehensive understanding that everyone is a missionary wherever they are and people actually living that out.

The standard barriers existed in our church like they do in many others. Most people still believed that carrying out the mission was what the staff is paid to do, they just got to show up to events. Maybe some felt called to volunteer at those events or help, but to own the vision of the great commision themselves, be burdened for their own mission field, and think of ways to engage their coworkers or neighbors? That was the staff’s job.

We realized that we had inadvertently created a system where the expectation was for them to participate in our thing instead of being released and empowered for the task God had called them to in their specific context. We had created a system where people could opt into mission instead of assuming that being on mission was simply a part of what it means to follow Jesus. In short, we realized that we had to flip the script upside down. We had to come up with a way to change the culture in our church, not the strategy ofour church.

We needed an unmistakable moment. A moment for everyone to clearly make a decision if they would own the mission of reaching their community. What we did was create a teaching series that we simply called Send. It was intended to create a new baseline for missions and evangelism that revolved around the idea that we are saved to be sent.

We set apart an entire church service and named it Send Sunday. We showed people the vision and told them the only way we were getting there is if they owned it. At the end of our time together on Send Sunday, people were asked to reach under their chair and grab a card that looked like this:

The goal of the card was to create a moment where every single person in the room had to come face to face with questions like;

“Am I living on mission?”

“How many days do I most likely have on this earth and how am I using those for things of eternal impact?”

“Am I pointing my life towards those around me?”

“Who/Where is God sending me to now?”

The back of the card asked them to consider their next steps in life and looked like this:

These questions gave specific steps regarding the idea of living on mission and asked them to consider being a part of a church planting team on some level, ideally moving with a team and committing two years to that church plant, either as part-time staff or being part of the core team. Our goal was to connect the expectation of them engaging their community now with the idea that this could be practice for church planting in their future.

Over the next week, every small group put maps of our cities on the wall and had people place a green dot where they lived and a red dot where they wanted to leverage their influence for the kingdom.

The dots overlapped each other, covering a majority of the city and campus, and the sight was overwhelming. As people placed their dots on the map a tangible excitement swept across the room. There were dots placed on homes representing neighborhoods, there were dots placed on apartment complexes and workplaces. On the university campuses there were dots placed on classroom buildings representing groups like engineers and architects. There were dots on the football stadium representing athletes, with residence halls and student union buildings represented as well. People began to see that if we lived this out, we could impact entire cities. Campuses would be changed.

Over the ensuing months, these dots on the map became stories, became faces, became friends, became family and became believers who were putting their own dots on the maps. Individuals who had placed dots on the maps, began to slowly morph into groups of people who shared a target based on shared workplaces, neighborhoods and majors. They were finding themselves on mission together. We formalized this in the fall when we formed our small groups based on where you were sent. Essentially, people came together around the places they put their dots. These small groups now have a cohesive missional metric not based just upon our strategy, but based upon something much more significant; a personal understanding that being sent on mission isn’t something you opt into but something you have to opt out of.

Changing our staff room strategy into every church goer’s personal mission was the only way we could make a real change and actually engage our community together on mission.

Published March 28, 2017

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Keith Wieser

Originally from the nation of Texas, Keith and his family have lived in the Northwest for 13 years and in Pullman for almost a decade. After getting married in 2000, Keith and Paige landed in Vancouver, Washington, for theological training and to minister to students at Clark College. After completing seminary in 2004, Keith and Paige moved to Pullman to minister to college students and in the process started Resonate Church.