When John Wesley said “do all the good you can,” he didn’t mean ONLY in your local church building. He defined the church as the community around him, proclaiming “the world is my parish.” Several churches in our conference are following his advice. Believing they are blessed to be a blessing, they have found new ways to go beyond the church building and reach out to neighbors. Taking up the challenge of author Reggie McNeal in his book Missional Renaissance, church leaders are figuring out ways to be known as “that blessing church” in their communities. Here are a few examples:
Messiah UMC: Bringing joy to businesses and police
Kami Pohl is the director of community engagement at Messiah UMC in Plymouth. Her church’s efforts to bless local businesses have gotten store owners to take notice. Members of the church gather at a different local restaurant, coffee shop, or other business once a month. They introduce themselves, purchase products, and get to know the people behind the counters or in the kitchens. Sometimes they say a prayer. With their actions, they try to send the message: “I care more about you than the product you can give me.” Kami says some store managers have a hard time believing the “blessers” don’t want a discount or anything free because they are so used to being asked for those things. But the church members are into it to give, not receive. And it’s refreshing for the recipients.
While dining at a local restaurant with a friend one evening, the owner happened to mention to Kami that business had been much slower than expected this season. Kami took this as a sign from God. So a few nights later, members of the church gathered there, and the phone lines went down—at a place where 50 percent of business comes from take-out. With Messiah’s attendance and business that evening, eventual losses due to the phone outage were offset. Business owners remember things like that—and they remember the church and people there when it happened.
On a separate occasion, Pastor Steve Richards tried to discern how his members could provide a blessing to the City of Plymouth’s dedicated police force. He called and found out that officers didn’t need any more baked goods—a gift that people had frequently given. So instead, Messiah members decided to send cards of encouragement. After finding the cards in their bulletins one Sunday morning, they wrote personal notes—200 in total, all of which were sent to Plymouth police. Many people who supplied a return address received notes back from the officers. When the job becomes demanding, police officers remember these types of caring acts.
Chatfield UMC: Blessing stones
Members of Chatfield UMC view themselves as missionaries and their town as a mission field. Pastor Debra Collum encourages them to see their role in the community as important to their growth as a Christian community. A while back, they decided to distribute stones to all the businesses in town as their way of saying “We believe that God is present in all the places that we call Chatfield, and Chatfield is a sacred place.” And, as Debra says, “anyone in a small town knows that the financial well-being of the community will determine the well-being of the community and the churches.”
All members of the congregation participated in the blessing stones ministry in some way. They distributed stones and prayed over them in every business, including the bars. Then they did the same in all the public areas— the libraries, City Hall, public schools, care centers, clinics, and even other churches! One teary-eyed new business owner received the stone after a difficult week and was so grateful to receive support from the church.
These are just three examples of faith communities “taking it to the streets” in Christ’s name. Churches are also forming partnerships with local schools, food shelves, hospitals, and more. It’s all part of healing a broken world that Jesus loves so much.
How are you blessing your community? We’d love to hear your story.
Rev. Lyndy Zabel is director of missional impact for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.