Justin Hiebert

Catalyzing Change

Community Minded Mission

Posted on 02 Jun 2014 in Church, Ministry, missional theology | 6 comments

A pastor of a local church recently shared an experience that he had. His church held a funeral for a neighborhood member that died rather unexpectedly. Having known the family he reached out and offered to help, and the family quickly agreed. The day of the funeral came and many members of the family, also a part of the neighborhood, commented how cool it was that there was a church in the area and that they had driven these streets often, but never noticed the church.

An entire extended family admitted that they drove by the church and never noticed it or wanted to participate.

The temptation may be to keep reading, but I think it’s important to let that last sentence sink in.


Often, within the church world, we talk about ways to be more effective, to make more of an impact, or to do ‘outreach.’ These are noble and desirable goals, something that the church should strive for, but I think we often miss the point: the vast majority of people today aren’t looking for a ‘church’ they are looking for a place to belong. What they want more than anything is to know that they can be accepted and loved. They want less a place of worship for God and more a place of welcome.

Community advocates get that, and the single greatest thing that they spend their time doing is create community.

I live in Denver, a bustling city and vacation hotspot. Recently, Denver has announced the upcoming dates for it’s annual “Denver Days” a week long festivity and ideas and opportunities for neighbors to connect. They’ve put together a PDF document of possible ideas and have waved park reservation fees. The idea is, “Creating community through neighborhood activities and volunteer projects.” The whole goal is to bring neighbors together because they know that stronger neighbors build stronger neighborhoods and strong neighborhoods have lower crime and report a better quality of life.

For the city, it’s an easy thing, wave a few application fees in exchange for a lower crime rate and happier citizens. Losing a couple of hundred dollars on the front end of the week can save them several thousand on the back end. Fireworks in Cluj Napoca

I’ve only got one problem with it: it shouldn’t be the city organizing these events. Ice cream socials, barbecues, block parties, park activities, those should be the the core mission and vision of the church: to create a community where people can belong, participate, and feel welcomed. A safe place to talk about faith and what it means to follow God. The opportunity to, as one guy famously put it, “love your neighbor as yourself.”

Churches often plot some rather grandiose ideas of outreach. They spend time, money, and people power on designing a slick brochure that tells people to “visit us sometime on a Sunday between 9 and 11.”

I’m growing more and more convinced that without careful planning and oversight, it is extraordinarily hard to call any program an ‘outreach’ if it takes place within the context of the church building. Outreach doesn’t happen in the church, it happens ‘out there’ in the community.

Service projects shouldn’t have to be organized by the city, but they are because the church has for too long neglected this mission.

Block parties shouldn’t be hosted by a community liaison, but they have to be because the church has decided that it would rather be safe inside church walls than be out there with ‘the sinners.’


[pullquote]My friend lamented that his church has seemingly missed a golden opportunity to be a light to his community. Hiding behind walls, the church could proudly proclaim that it ‘did outreach’ but in never actually went out anywhere.[/pullquote]

We often teach our children early in the church what it means to be a Christian. We give them songs to help them remember, and children everywhere are known for singing, “…hide it under a bushel, NO! I’m gonna let it shine….” The greatest obstacle to hiding our lights is not bushels or Satan ‘blowing it out’ but church walls, where congregations gather together Sunday after Sunday and hide behind the safety and security of brick walls, instead of living a life in the streets. Our greatest guilt has not been a lack of effort, but a lack of mission. We’ve made it easy for people to forget about us. To drive by day after day on their walk or their drive to work, and the city has been left to pick up the pieces of missed opportunity.

And my prayer is that we will someday reclaim this great opportunity.


*Many will want to interject something here about sin. “But you said nothing about sin!” There is a time and a place for that. Sin affects all of us. It has marred everything in creation and has left the world in it’s wake of destruction. Sin is important to talk about, but it should never be the first (or loudest) thing the church talks about. Jesus’ own invitation was to first, “Follow Me.” a command to come and belong, to participate in community, and to see what life with God is like (John 1:43). Numerous other scriptural examples support this, see Matthew, Zacchaeus, and the woman in Luke 7 as just a few examples.

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Justin Hiebert

Leadership Catalyst - Entrepreneur - Coach at JSHiebert Leadership Coaching
I am a Business and Life Coach in both non-profit and for profit settings. I coach leaders, executives, and pastors in areas of vision, clarity, and values. In relationship coaching I focus on healthy and sustainable relationships, and in leadership development roles I catalyze change for individuals and groups to thrive. I also consult churches and organizations on how to train new leaders and create a healthy culture. In addition to that, I am an Anabaptist pastor in the Denver metro area. I specialize on topics that include: missional theology, discipleship, culture and the church in today’s society. I am married to my wonderful wife Elise and we have three kids. I grew up and now work in the United States Mennonite Brethren Church (USMB) and love the people and history of the Mennonite Brethren faith. I am a graduate of Tabor College with a dual degree in Youth Ministry and Christian Leadership, a graduate of Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary with a Masters of Divinity, and a Doctoral Student and Bethel Seminary. I also teach college classes in areas of Bible, Communication, and Business.

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  • HSGarage

    “the vast majority of people today aren’t looking for a ‘church’ they are looking for a place to belong” This. Getting “connected” or “plugged in” isn’t enough. You can do all that and still not feel like you BELONG. If you truly don’t have friends you can relate to on more than one level in the church you won’t feel like you belong. At least I don’t. If we are working “out there” to develop relationships they will follow us into the church won’t they? And those people will feel like they belong when they get there.
    I think this is one of your best articles that I have read.

    • Thanks for the encouragement! Glad it was a helpful article. Blessings as you help others belong

  • Every second and fourth Sunday night, we have opened our home to a bunch of folks to come in, share food, enjoy time together, and support one another. There’s no Bible study, no explicit God talk… nothing that seems “churchish”… BUT… my wife and I are not shy about our faith and we DO bring our faith into the conversations that arise… even when there is a pagan, an atheist, and an agnostic present.

    And this group helps each other move in to new apartments, exchanges white elephant gifts at Christmas, gives and receives counsel on any number of things, financially assists each other…

    The way I learned this is from a friend who is wiser than me in many ways… we planted Jesus and we’re seeing what harvest comes…

    • Excellent! Glad to hear it Robert! Would love to hear some of the stories that have arisen out of those moments. Beautiful and holy I’m sure…

      • There are times when the moments are more beautiful and holy than others… like sitting with a friend as he grieved a life change… or scouring the neighborhood for one friend’s wife who ran off in an emotional state one morning… or sharing our anxieties together and realizing we are not alone…

        But, there are times when it doesn’t feel beautiful and holy… when my own humanity exerts itself and I stumble in my attempts to counsel a married couple going through a very rough time… Those are the times when it feels so dark and lonely because it is so obvious when I fail….

        And that is where we lean HEAVILY on God’s grace… that he will bless our efforts if we are faithful in repenting of our mistakes and moving forward with wisdom and hope.

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