When my family and I started a new church in Lexington, Kentucky, one of the first things we did was perform a community act of kindness. Seven teams, a total of 21 families, met on a Saturday afternoon at a large subdivision close to where we plan to locate the new church. We went door-to-door handing out free light bulbs to every household. Along with the light bulbs, we handed out brochures describing our new church and inviting people to come and visit our worship services. On each package was a note that read, "Spreading the 'Light' of the World through the Love of Jesus Christ."
All total, we visited over two thousand homes in about three hours. We received a number of comments. Some people were a little suspicious, others were cautious, but most were impressed by the fact that we weren't trying to sell them something but rather giving them something for free. The next day at our Sunday worship service, 11 families from that subdivision attended as a result of our efforts. Within six weeks after the event, a total of 17 families visited our services. All because we were willing to sacrifice our time and energy to show people the love of Jesus Christ in a simple, hospitable way.
The Lord has given the church a mandate to love others outside the walls of the church. Most churches do a decent job of ministering inward to those within the church. Sadly, few churches are doing anything to impact those outside the church. What a tragedy-especially when you consider the vast number of unchurched people who respond favorably to random acts of kindness and hospitality. One of the easiest and most rewarding outreach efforts the church can perform is community acts of hospitality.
Guidelines for Acts of Hospitality
Notice these simple guidelines for conducting acts of kindness in the community:
- When Appropriate, Always Ask Permission
Unfortunately, we're aware of the litigation madness in our society today. Therefore, seek permission when performing a random act of kindness in the community. For instance, if your teams provide hot coffee and cocoa to shoppers at a local grocery store, make sure that the store manager knows your intentions and has approved your being there.
- If Possible, Have All Your Supplies in Advance
Depending on the type of project, make sure you have plenty of supplies on hand. If the project is a big event, it is wise to have someone assigned as the leader or coordinator. This person can delegate responsibilities, arrange time schedules, get permission and perform other tasks as needed to make the event a success. If you run out of supplies, the coordinator can either replenish the supplies or assign someone else to perform that task. Also, use quality equipment and products when performing community services. The people you're serving will feel valued if you use high-quality products.
- Stick to Your Assigned Schedule and Time Arrangements
If you plan to perform a project from 9:00 a.m. until 12:00 noon, make sure you honor those time arrangements. This respects the time of both your team members and the people who may be providing you a location or space to perform your services. Time is a precious commodity in our society. A sufficient time span for most projects is three to four hours maximum.
- Practice Safety at All Times
When you are performing a community project, make sure safety measures are considered. Provide brightly colored safety vests when conducting services close to a busy street. Never send teens or children out to perform tasks without proper adult supervision. Have plenty of men present when performing community acts. Have team members wear nametags or perhaps a T-shirt that promotes who and what you represent. Finally, if your community event is on a large scale, use cell phones or walkie-talkies so team members can communicate effectively.
- Demonstrate Kindness in Attitude
The acts of kindness you perform make an incredible impression on those you serve-but only if you do it with the right spirit. If you perform an act of kindness with a disgruntled spirit, chances are you have failed to minister to someone. Why? Often it is not necessarily the deed that impresses but the attitude of the one performing the deed. For instance, if you are gift wrapping a Christmas gift for someone, and all you can do is complain that your feet hurt, or that there are too many "cheap" people wanting "free" gift wrapping, then you've lost your effectiveness. The whole idea of an act of "kindness" is that it is done with a spirit of humility and graciousness. Never be overbearing or rude to someone you are serving. Undoubtedly you will perform a task for someone who is ungrateful or dissatisfied in return. When this occurs, always smile and be overly courteous. Remember that a smile and a gentle voice are powerful tools to apply when dealing with mean or unsatisfied people. Don't forget: The task you perform is only a tool you use to touch a soul for Jesus.
- Always Do Your Very Best
Whatever task you perform, do it to the best of your abilities. People notice laziness, apathy, and indifference. God desires our very best, and so do those we're trying to reach. This doesn't mean you have to be a perfectionist. However, performing a reasonably good job is within the limits of everyone. Your public effort will reflect either positively or negatively on your church. If your work is performed with quality, people will likely have a more positive opinion about your church. However, if your work performance is below par, people will draw the conclusion that your church must possess the same disposition (see Phil. 2:14-15).
- Review the Pros and Cons of Every Event
The time you spend reviewing what worked and what didn't will be energy well spent. The purpose for this review is to learn how to give away God's love to the lost more effectively. Discovering what people respond to can make all the difference in an effective project.
- Be in a Spirit of Prayer
Intercession is important when you are performing acts of kindness. First, pray for opportunities to share your faith and bear good fruit. Second, pray as you perform the act of kindness. Being in a spirit of prayer will enhance your heart and attitude while you attempt to serve others. When it is all over, they may forget you, but pray that they will not forget the Jesus they have seen in you. Third, pray for the people you are trying to reach. Ask God to give them a pliable heart and spirit. Finally, pray for results after the project is completed. You have planted seeds; now pray that those seeds fall on fertile soil.
- Don't Be Concerned with Seeing Immediate Results
Most people will be grateful for the service you have provided. However, don't expect to see every person you reach in church the following Sunday morning. That won't happen. God will, however, honor your efforts. I love what Paul told the churches of Galatia: "Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up" (Gal. 6:9).
- Please Do Not Charge a Fee for Your Services
Charging a fee only minimizes your effectiveness. Inevitably people will want to show their gratitude for your services by offering to pay. Don't argue with them; instead, kindly let them know that your actions are not intended for monetary gain. Share with them that your gift is the privilege of serving them with no strings attached.
- Plan for Appropriate Expenses
Most of your community ministry projects will call for some financial support. Initially, church funding may be limited. Therefore, suggest that each team be willing to make financial contributions when needs arise. If your ministry project is more costly than what your team can provide, join forces with another team and pool your resources.
- Have an Alternate Project in Reserve In Case of Inclement Weather
Because many of the community projects you perform will be outside, you need to prepare for times when the weather is uncooperative. Your attitude at such times should be positive-the attitude that bad weather just means that you will attempt to meet people's needs in a slightly different way than planned. For instance, if you planned a carwash at a local grocery store parking lot and it begins to rain, provide an umbrella escort service for patrons entering and leaving the store instead. Remember: If you sought permission from someone for your original plan, be sure to notify them of any changes in your activity's time or location.
- Discover What Community Projects Work Best for Your Team
It is important that your team feels a sense of ownership in whatever community project it chooses to undertake. Therefore, discover what works best for your team. In doing so, remember that people's needs differ greatly from one community to the next. What may be successful in one community may be a total flop in another. Learn the basic demographics of your local area. Determine from the demographics what specific needs exist in your targeted area.
- As Pastors and Staff Leaders, Give Your Teams Permission to Minister Freely
Pastors do a good job teaching their flock the importance of ministry, however, some pastors tend to keep people focused only on what they deem as necessary ministries, especially when it comes to performing acts of service. As a result, church members may wait for the pastor or professional staff to lead the way instead of taking the initiative to move forward in service. Most pastors would not object to having their parishioners perform acts of service as long as it was their pastor's idea. Pastors and staff members, allow for freedom and spontaneity within your teams without always requiring permission before they embark on community projects.
- Don't Let the Fear of Mistakes Keep You from Serving
God specializes in taking weak instruments and using them to get the glory (see 1 Cor. 1:26-31). God blesses our actions and obedience, even when we think we have failed according to human expectations. Don't let the fear of failure keep you from going out and touching lives with the love of Jesus Christ.
Adapted from REACH: A Team Approach to Evangelism and Assimilation, (Baker Books, 2005). Used with permission.