I just finished a book called: Growing Deeper in our Church Communities: 50 ideas for Connection in a Disconnected Age. It is a short little book, with some 50 great ideas for building community in your church.
It is free right now for Kindle, but I don’t know how much longer the deal will last.
The following ideas are my favorite suggestions.
- Create an “Unwanted Stuff Exchange” where members who are replacing furniture, appliances or vehicles can give their old ones to other members in the church. This exchange could be an email distribution list or an actual bulletin board in the church building. One word of advice here: it is better simply to connect donors with people who could use their things, rather than to accept donations and then try to find recipients, as items that nobody wants tend to accrue over time.
- Utilize the gifts of the church’s retired people in creative ways that support the mission of the church. Your congregation probably has older people who are skilled at fixing broken things, helping neighbors in need, helping with childcare or schooling, etc. At Englewood, we have a group of retired men who come to the church building every weekday morning and do whatever work needs to be done – whether that is taking people who cannot drive to doctor’s appointments, painting or doing fix-it type jobs.
- Nurture inter-generational relationships in the family of God. Encourage older members in the congregation who do not have grandchildren (or don’t have grandchildren who live close) to “adopt” children in the congregation – especially ones who do not have grandparents nearby.
- Babysit someone else’s children – particularly if you don’t have any children that live in your home. This is a wonderful way to start building inter-generational relationships. Most parents that I know, and especially ones with younger children, would love to have an occasional night out by themselves.
- Host a homeschooling co-op or an after-school study group in your church building. Find gifted people (perhaps retired teachers) who can participate with parents in the education process. This is another wonderful way to extend the shared life of the church throughout the week.
Walk, bike or drive around your neighborhood and do asset-mapping, noting key places in the local economy: local businesses, restaurants, parks, community gardens. Observe where people gather at various times throughout the day. Make a map that highlights these assets and distribute it freely in your neighborhood. There are some excellent online resources (such as this one) that can help you explore the possibilities of asset-mapping.
- Do “Field Recordings” in your neighborhood. Take a digital recorder out into the neighborhood around your church building and record neighbors showing off their talents (singing, playing instruments, telling jokes/stories). Make a cd of these recordings and distribute it freely in your neighborhood. This is a fun and disarming way to get to know your neighbors, regardless of the type of neighborhood. Our church did this with our youth group as part of a summer art program. You can find the story of this adventure and audio clips of our recordings on our church blog. [Be sure to get people’s permission to distribute the recordings.
- you could host a neighborhood produce exchange in the summer where gardeners could swap their surplus produce with one another.
- Create a piece of art in your neighborhood that reflects some significant part of the story of that place. Get neighbors involved in the planning, designing and creating of this artwork. Paint a mural on a retaining wall or the side of a building. Or, build a sculpture on a visible spot on the church property, in a public park or elsewhere. A big part of the planning process will be knowing the neighborhood’s history well enough to discern the best way to honor it
- Host occasional educational seminars for your neighborhood at your church building. Find members who can share their knowledge of useful skills like changing a car’s oil, navigating tax laws, planting a garden or making rain-barrels to recycle rain water. At the end of the seminar ask the participants for ideas of related topics about which they would like to learn more.Throw a neighborhood history party. Record neighbors telling their most memorable stories about the neighborhood and assemble these stories into a DVD, CD or book. Make sure elderly neighbors get involved, as they are a rich source of stories for this sort of project. If there is a nursing home nearby, you could host the party there. Invite neighbors to bring photos or historical documents and have a scanner on hand to digitally scan these items, making sure they are returned to the proper owners before they leave the party. Libraries are also excellent sources of historical records that would benefit this type of project.
- Plan regular work days in your community garden, or if you don’t have a community garden, gather church members and neighbors to brainstorm how you might start one. Winter is an ideal time to start planning a community garden. Our church’s experience running a community garden has taught us that it is best to start small and to make sure a coordinator is assigned who is responsible for planning and organizing the work that will need to be done – planting weeding, tending and harvesting.
- Give language to the shape of your life together as a church. Write a mission statement or covenant that gives specific language to commitments that your church community is making as you strive together to be faithful to God and one another in your particular place. Talk with other churches about the commitments that their members make. Our church spent almost two years in conversation and discernment, as we hammered out the language of our covenant. An important part of this process, and one that we are still working on, is discerning how our faithfulness to these commitments will be assessed, so that they do not get relegated over time to mere words on a page. The end product is not as important as the process of conversationally discerning the commitments that will give shape to your life together.