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Our church used to partner exclusively with other Christian ministries. For everything from missions to community service.

Before that, we would only partner with ministries in our denomination.

Today, while we still only partner with Christian groups for missions (can’t call it missions otherwise) up to half the groups we partner with for local community service are not Christian-based.

No, we haven’t gone soft on our faithfulness to the gospel. And we have standards for those we will and will not partner with.

But in the last few years we’ve decided to step outside our previously normal routine and work with people and groups who don’t identify as faith-based.

Most, maybe all of them, have Christians in key leadership positions. But that’s not why we work with them.

Here are 8 reasons why it’s important for us to work with secular community groups.

1. It Increases Our Sphere of Influence

There is more good work being done by churches than by any other group of people in the world. But many folks outside the church don’t know that. Because we often insulate ourselves from others as we do it.

How can we be light in the darkness when we only hang out with other candles?

How can we be light in the darkness when we only hang out with other candles? But that’s what happens when churches only work with other churches or Christian ministries.

Here’s an example of what happens when we reach out.

I don’t live in the Bible Belt. Most cities in California would never think of partnering with local churches, citing non-existent restrictions regarding separation of church and state.

That’s the way it was in our town, too. Not any more.

Because our church has intentionally developed a reputation for partnering with people of goodwill and showing Jesus’ love without agenda, our City Hall feels comfortable calling our church when neighbors need help. Yes, the city calls us!

Because of this, we can impact people in our community today that we had no chance to influence just a few years ago.

Every time we partner with them to do things we all care about – helping neighbors and cleaning up the local park for instance – our influence grows. And there are greater opportunities for Jesus to touch more lives.

2. It Can Impact Their Perception of Christians – And Jesus

Several years ago, thanks to my wife’s involvement, our church raised funds to support music programs that had been severely cut in our public schools – programs that many of the kids in our church were involved in.

Several public school teachers were so stunned by the church’s support that they were near tears. When I asked why this touched them so deeply, one of them told me, “We thought you didn’t like us. This is the only time in my two decades of teaching that I’ve heard anything from a local church other than complaints.”

Ouch.

How can we reach our communities if they have no idea we love them? And how will they know we love them if we don’t work alongside them?

3. It Bursts Our Church-World Bubble

Church people tend to see one set of problems, challenges and sins. Unchurched people often see an entirely different set.

When we break out of our bubble of preconceptions and work alongside unchurched people, we have a better chance of meeting the needs and healing the hurts they’re actually feeling, not just the ones we think they have, or should be feeling.

Besides, not only did Jesus live outside the bubble, his greatest criticism was against those who refused to leave it.

4. It Shakes Up Our Comfort Zone

I like my comfort zone. It’s comfortable.

But it’s also enticingly dangerous.

Hanging around fellow believers is easy. Too easy.

Being comfortable and easy makes me lazy.

When we work alongside our secular counterparts, we have to be more conscious of what we say, how we act and how we represent Christ to them.

We might have to engage in conversations with people who express ideas we won’t hear in church. And we might have to listen more than we talk. For a pastor, that might be the most uncomfortable thing of all.

But it’s a discomfort that can drive us to be better, more Christlike examples. It’s certainly better than yelling at people we disagree with on Facebook.

5. They'll Help Us Reach People We Can't Reach

One of the groups our church works with is a shelter for abused women and children. Some of them have been abused by men claiming to be Christians. Those women will not seek out a church for help.

But when we show up at their non-faith-based shelter to help clean, repair, paint and otherwise improve their modest living conditions, we get to show Jesus’ love to people who would never look for it in a church.

6. It's Less Self-Serving

When we only partner with fellow Christians – especially when we limit it to our denomination – we usually get some kind of missions credit for it.

But when members of our congregation go to the state-run center for the mentally handicapped near us, we gain nothing but the joy of serving. Being a state-sponsored center, we’re not even allowed to invite them to church.

But they get to experience Jesus’ love through us. Love without agenda.

7. It Stretches Our Faith

When we work with unchurched people, we often hear unchurchy language and see less-than-holy behavior. (We see that in church, too. But it’s the kind we’re used to.)

They can ask us some pretty blunt questions about our faith. And we have to be ready to answer, listen and love them. No matter what.

8. It’s Humbling

Christians aren’t better people than non-Christians.

We all need Jesus. But we don’t always express that very well.

Sometimes, in our enthusiasm to share our faith, Christians come come across as … okay I’ll say it … we can be arrogant, rude, prideful know-it-alls. Arrogance is not a Christian virtue.

Yes, we have the answer. His name is Jesus.

But we don’t have all the answers.

Working alongside people toward a common goal is a great way to break us of that arrogance, without compromising our values.

There’s nothing any of us can do to make Jesus look better than he already is. But humility looks good on us. And it helps others see Jesus a little clearer.

 

Karl Vaters is the author of The Grasshopper Myth: Big Churches, Small Churches and the Small Thinking That Divides Us. He’s been in pastoral ministry for over 30 years and has been the lead pastor of Cornerstone Christian Fellowship in Fountain Valley, California for over 20 years. He’s also the founder of NewSmallChurch.com, a blog that encourages, connects and equips innovative Small Church pastors.

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