Almost every church is trying to do something to reach their city and get their members more engaged with others. The challenge most mission leaders face is a lack of time and resources. For this reason, the default local mission strategy for most churches consists of a series of service projects throughout the year. They take a lot of work to set up and after they are over, most people just go back to their normal lives. As a result, many mission leaders often look at all they are leading and eventually ask this question, "Is this working?"
Do Service Projects Work?
The answer to this question depends on your definition of success. As we work with mission leaders from across the country, I am constantly asking them this question: "How do you define success?" If the goal is activity, then service projects work. If the goal is community building among your church, then service projects work. If the goal is publicity, then service projects work. But I find with most churches, these are not their goals.
What if your goal is impact? If your goal is making disciples? Is your goal is to see hearts broken for the marginalized? If so, then service projects will not work. In fact, I would argue that service projects are keeping you from these things. Service projects limit personal interaction and impact to one day and subtly communicate that showing up for one afternoon is all that Jesus asks of his church.
See Something They Cant "Un-See"
So now consider what you, as a local mission leader would do with your time if you were not planning service projects. I would argue that your main job is not to plan activities but to find creative ways to expose people to the marginalized. Our goal as leaders is to put our church members in situations where they can see something they never forget. One of our local non-profit partners is focussed on ending human trafficking in our city. They have offered at times to take people on a tour of the city and point out the local active brothels that are known to exist, but have not been shut down. They took one of our church members on this tour, and afterward she said, "I saw something I could never un-see." What a simple, but profound statement!
I am more and more convinced that people don't engage with the marginalized because they don't actually see them. Matthew 9:36 tells us that Jesus had compassion for the crowds when he saw them. He actually saw them as helpless and harassed, like sheep without a shepherd. And it led him to gather his disciples and immediately pray for more people to enter the mission field. I have not had to set up any service projects or even coach that volunteer in how to get more involved. Once she saw something she could not un-see, she was all in. She has gathered hundreds of others as well and has seen more impact than 50 service projects could ever produce. How can you help your church see the city as it truly is?