Do you venture out into the community to cultivate relationships?
Do you venture out into the community to cultivate relationships? (Lightstock)

In many parts of the country, churches are more ubiquitous than Starbucks—gracing every street corner with tall steeples and signs that catch the attention of passersby: "Honk if you love Jesus. Text while driving if you want to meet him." Or "Son screen prevents sin burn."

Long before they decided to get clever, churches were the central points of our communities—a landmark; a sanctuary; a place to go for help. When traveling around Europe, you'll see that the cities always revolve around grand cathedrals— the center point from which the city orbits.

But in recent years, our churches have grown more and more out of touch with the community surrounding them. We're tuned into the lives of our congregation and those on other continents we go to serve. But we are largely out of touch with our own communities—with those who need help in our own backyard.

So how do we get connected with our communities again? How do we go from being a church that's in a community, to a church that's part of a community?

Here are three ways you might not have thought of:

1. Use social media to discover the need. These days, it's easier to share your thoughts and feelings on Twitter than it is to share with those next door. But we can use this to our advantage, using social media to clue into the needs of those around us.

Hoot Suite (a social media scheduling tool) allows the same search function that the normal Twitter app provides but with a twist: You can search a particular area for who is using certain keywords. You can zoom into your community and search words like "prayer" or "hospital" and find out who in your community is in need of something your church body can provide.

Can you imagine the power this tool could have for us as churches if we were to embrace and leverage it?

Stop doing things FOR people and start doing things WITH people. 

Churches are notorious for trying to solve problems before we understand them. Instead of creating new volunteer opportunities, let's start teaming up with people and ministries in our community who are already getting their hands dirty—pitching in instead of reinventing the wheel.

There are wonderful ministries in each of our communities that know the people they're serving and the need they're working to fill. It's the equivalent of going to Kenya and teaming up with local pastors there. These are the people with an understanding of the community and what will be most helpful.

My great friend and mentor Scott Wilson talked about this recently. For more information, go here.

2. Get out of the office. If your days are anything like mine, your schedule is an endless string of meetings. But instead of being the reason you can't leave the office, meetings can actually be a great excuse to get some fresh air and make some new relationships in the community. Find a coffee shop or a restaurant nearby and start conducting some of your meetings there instead. (I guarantee the coffee will be better.)

Be consistent with the ones you pick and get to know the owners, the baristas, and the regulars. I can't tell you how many incredible stories I've heard of pastors building relationships with people this way.

One hint though—when spending several hours in one place, you'll make more friends if you buy more than a measly cup of coffee and if you tip well! Be a good patron, and give them some business as you take up their table.

Just because our churches have been out of touch with our communities, doesn't mean it has to stay this way. Our towns and cities still need safe places to revolve around—the local movie theater just isn't the same as the church.

3. Venture out. Listen to people and hear their stories, and invite your church to meet the needs they see.

With more than a dozen years of local church ministry, Justin Lathrop has spent the last several years starting businesses and ministries that partner with pastors and churches to advance the Kingdom. He is the founder of (now Vanderbloemen Search), Oaks School of Leadership, and, all while staying involved in the local church.

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