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Ideas

• Organize a campaign.

What needs doing in your city, town, or community?  Is there a need going unmet in your church's neighborhood?  It could be anything from broken streetlights and unfilled potholes to lack of a decent playground or seniors needing transportation. Don't wait for someone else to do something!  Take charge, recruit others from your congregation, make a plan and follow through.

• Adopt a street.

Is there a street nearby that needs a little love? Pick up litter, shovel the sidewalks, plant a tree.  Or think bigger: is there an abandoned lot or a foreclosed house on a nearby street that have become eyesores?  Work with the congregation and your town or city to see what the possibilities are for the church to re-purpose these properties.

• Get your hands dirty.

If you've been a spectator, why not jump in and be a doer for a change?  If you're used to donating money, try donating some time and skill and even some sweat.  Deepen your faith by digging in.  Help make the huge pans of lasagna for the community supper;  go out with a clean-up crew; show up at a protest rally; put on your overalls and paint a Sunday School classroom.  If you really want to get your hands dirty, teach a Sunday School class!  

• Partner with a school.

Provide filled backpacks each fall for low-income elementary school students.  Work with the schools and church volunteers to help provide free breakfast and/or lunch for all children who need them.  Have qualified members provide free SAT prep help to high school students.  Start an after-school tutoring or homework-help program.

• Plant a garden.

On unused church property or in a vacant lot in town.  Organize a community vegetable garden or just find a place that needs some beauty and plant flowers—a traffic triangle, a median strip, a bare patch by the side of the road, along the walkway to your church's door.  

• Create art.

Art makes everything better, and every community needs lots of artists—you don't have to be a professional.  Change the atmosphere of your neighborhood or town by organizing kids to create a chalk mural in the church parking lot, or get permission from the city or a landlord to plan and paint a mural on a concrete wall.  Form a string quartet or a barbershop quartet or an acapella group and perform for free wherever they'll let you.  See if your church can host poetry readings or drawing classes.  

• Incite laughter.

Church can be a little too serious—which can be unhealthy and never attracts new members.  Laughter in the sanctuary makes everything even holier. Lighten up, loosen up; find something funny in every worship service. Have movie nights at church and make sure at least every other one is a comedy.  

• Give faith muscle.

Keep praying, but give God a hand by getting up off your knees and getting to work.  Put some muscle behind what you believe, and you'll be amazed at the results.  Better than anything that happens at the gym.  Faith needs to be physical.  Your faith should be the motivator for what you do when you go out the door every day. Who will you help? How will you improve your corner of the world? Where will you find your strength?

• Promote random kindness.

Let the person with two things go ahead of you in the grocery line. Say “hey, how's it going?” instead of “peace be with you” when you're passing the peace in church.  Give up the parking spot to the guy who got there after you.  Be polite to tele-marketers.  Actually stop and buy some lemonade from a little kid's stand.

• Spruce up the town.

Some towns need more sprucing up than others.  You know what your town needs—you can be the ones to do it.  One church got tired of the overflowing trash cans in the tiny urban park across the street, so they just started emptying them into their own dumpster: instant spruce-up.  Stop thinking about whose job it's supposed to be.  Start thinking about what you can change instantly by just doing it.

• Promote peace.

It takes more than a bumper sticker.  Don't avoid conflict—but  don't seek it out for fun, either.  Peace starts with you. Church is a great place to experiment with it. Try letting go of the need to control others.  Try letting things happen instead of always making them happen.  Give someone else a chance.  Agree to disagree.  Shake hands more.  Wave and smile at people you find it hard to get along with.  See what happens.

• Join a coalition.

What national or regional organization could use your church's help?  Find an issue that members feel passionately about and look for the organization that addresses it.  Then join as a delegation from your church.

• Show pride.

Put up your Faith, In banner in front of your church now!  Distribute Faith, In bumper stickers to everyone after church—have a teenager posted in the parking lot to hand them out.  Put a basket of Faith, In buttons in every pew.

• Read with children.  

Host a story hour on Tuesday evenings or Saturday mornings.  Establish a Parents' Day Out program—a part-time preschool that could be just one afternoon or morning a week.  Collect picture books in good condition from members to donate to the library and schools or hold a picture book swap after church.  

• Show up.

It's 99% of life.  Be present.  Show support by being there when you're needed—and never assume that you're not needed.  Whether it's your granddaughter's 4-hour ballet recital, the church council, a Board of Education meeting, your geometry class, or the voting booth: show up.

• Be visible.

Change your church sign weekly.  Have an excellent website—include the pastor's picture and change the content frequently.  Host community events.  Open the church up to outside groups.  Strive to have the lights on in your church hall or basement every night of the week. Consider a billboard in town.  Send your members out to serve.  Invite the community in to receive.  After worship, ask the pastor to shake hands outside in front of the church or on the steps.

• Teach understanding.

Learn it first.  And practice it.  Tolerance is quick and easy and no one really wants it.  Understanding takes longer and is hard and it's what we all want.  Make an honest effort every day to understand the point of view of someone you completely disagree with.  Teach by doing.  

• Engage civic leaders.

The Mayor, the Chairperson of the Board of Education, the Pastor of your church and other religious leaders, the Principals of your schools, the owners of local businesses: they are committed to your community and they need you.  Know who they are and know something about them. Vote in local elections, follow local news, shop locally.

• Share food.

You know how to do this: food pantries, potlucks, bean suppers, chowder suppers, free community meals.  But you can also check to see if your community's Meals on Wheels or similar program has suffered cutbacks and needs volunteers or donations.  You can have garden swaps in the summer—everyone brings something from their garden (or preserves, or baked goods) and can take something else home.  

• Invest in outrageous ideas.

Playing it safe and avoiding risk are good strategies most of the time.  But every once in a while an outrageously good idea will come along.  Something that no one's tried before or that everyone says can't be done or shouldn't be done.  But you think it just might work and if it does, the payoff in blessings will be amazing, and the future will take a new course. Invest, commit, break down barriers and chart new territory.  

• Use talents publicly.

Don't hide your light under a bushel.  Speak up: organize a lecture series or a discussion group or an informal Bible study. Be the leader. Play your guitar or your cello or your trombone at a worship service, at the farmer's market, anywhere people gather.  Coach a team, start a blog, work for a political candidate, run for public office.  

• Inspire joy.

Happiness is contagious.  Make sure you contribute at least one big smile to someone you meet in your neighborhood or workplace every day.  Be encouraging.  If you have a good voice, sing.  If you don't, sing anyway.  Remember that Christmas is never more than 12 months away: joy is always available to the world.

• Celebrate diversity.

Seek out and welcome newcomers to your town, especially if your population is changing.  Decide that different is good.  Encourage non-conformity. Recognize that not all diversity is visible.  Mix up the music in worship.  Don't segregate: consider one service that's both traditional AND contemporary.  Make your church so welcoming and warm that people won't mind leaving their comfort zones while they're there.

• Make new friends.

Strong connections make a strong community.  Step outside your usual circle and find new people—if you don't go to church, visit a few.  The right church for you will be a source of new and lasting friends.  Get to know your neighbors.  Join the choir, or the softball team. Take some (group) lessons.  Learn the names of the people you see every day—a waitress, bus driver, checkout person at the grocery store, security guard.  Adopt a dog—your new best friend will bring you new acquaintances on your daily walks.

• Advocate justice.

Write letters—to legislators and to the editor of your town's newspaper.  Share food . . .and take part in a CROP walk.  Host a Halloween party . . . and arm your church school kids with UNICEF boxes.   Open a thrift shop . . . and develop a program to provide interview outfits for men and women seeking jobs.  Start a Bible study group that focuses on justice themes.  

• Be the church worth joining.

Speak up, make yourself known, be an actor in your community. Make sure your greeters are the happy people in your church. Make sure it's super-obvious which door people should use to get in.  Try not to have boring sermons or watery coffee.  Welcome children sincerely.  Replace the tired curtains and carpet. Take stands and be a public voice. Make an effort.  Be bold.

• Live your faith.

Just try it.  You won't believe the difference it makes . . . until you do.

• Love your community.

And it will love you back.   It's time to really be wherever God has planted you.  Put down roots and grow.


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