Three Ways Churches Think They Are Known in Their Communities

Usually when I ask a question on social media, I expect a decent number of responses. Church leaders and members are typically gracious to me and share their opinions readily.

But when I asked a question about the reputation of their churches in the community, I was inundated with responses. Many wanted to share the good and the bad. Perhaps the most intriguing facet of the study was the three distinct groups in which the responses fell.

The question was simple: “What is your church known for in its community?”

Within a few minutes of my post, many responses came forth. After I read and added all of them, I saw three patterns emerge.

  1. About one-half of the churches are known for ministries that require the community to come to the church itself. Great preaching. Incredible worship services. A friendly church. Great events at the church. How our members care for one another. You get the picture. These are all great responses, but they require the community to come to the church. If community members do not set foot on the church’s campus, they will never know about the ministries of the church. For the majority of the churches, the idea of community ministry is “you come to us.”
  2. About one-fourth of the churches cited great ministries in and to the community. Partnering with schools in the community. Serving the community with food and clothes. Medical and dental ministries. Ministries to families, parents, and children in the community. The list goes on and on. It was exciting to read how many churches demonstrate their love for their community by actually going into the community.
  3. About one-fourth of the churches said they were known for negative reasons. Preacher-eater churches. Congregational fights and splits. Legalism. Unfriendliness. One church leader said his church was known for two murders that occurred a few years apart on the church site. Ouch.

The social media poll did encourage me in many ways. Many of our churches are doing an incredible job connecting with and ministering to the communities in which they are located. And though I am certainly glad to see many church members excited about what is taking place on their church campuses, I fear many members think that community ministry means, “Y’all come to us, and we will minister to you.”

Of course, I am concerned, but not necessarily surprised, about the negative perceptions of some churches in the community. I pray those churches will begin to make a positive impact in the locations where they serve.

What is your church known for in the community? What are your members actually doing in the community and for the community? Let me hear from you.

Posted on July 2, 2018

With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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  • david clegg says on

    The key word in the title is “THINK”.

    Often churches THINK they are known one way, but the community, and guests see them another way.

  • D a v i d Tro u b le f iel d , DM i n says on

    Years ago, I served an FBC situated on a lake and located directly across the street from the small community’s post office–where everyone in town had to go sometime. In outreaching and talking continually with neighbors around, many of them would ask, “There’s a CHURCH right across the street from the post office?” I wanted to believe that PO patrons always were so engrossed in retrieving their mail and its good news that looking for FBC was the last thing on their minds–or that the building couldn’t be seen for all the cedar trees between it and the post office parking lot. Trees did obstruct the view, so chopping them down and making that side of the campus the front instead of its back has increased visibility. Having the Post Mistress as an active watchcare member also helped a good bit–she knew everybody and all about them, was a terrific prayer warrior, and proudly pointed folks across the street! But that FBC had to learn to be both light and salt in the community consistently.

    Big things can have small beginnings. Cf. Mission Metroplex in Arlington, TX (latest ministry results described online here:, which started as one Bible study in one apartment in one apartment complex but has begun over 350 DFW congregations during the past thirty years and led almost 1700 people to faith in Christ last year. (Mission Metroplex grew out of FBC-Arlington, TX; “church” for many still is FBC-Arlington, and for others it is one of the congregations supported by Mission Metroplex). The Lord is mighty creative in how He brings people all the way to Himself!


  • Gary from Southern NH, USA says on

    Great post!

    Thank you,

  • Thom,
    After residing 68 years in our community of East Nashville, and at times struggling with the calling of what God has called us to do in the community. I’m happy to report that we have re-invented our selves with a new vision and mission statement.

    “We exist to share the LOVE of God will ALL people in our community t make followers of Jesus.”

    With the awesome leadership of our Pastor Sean, we have opened doors that no other church near us has been able to do. We started with a small project with a High School of feeding the high school football team, then moved to feeding the high school basketball team. We have broken down barriers that prevented churches to reach todays students. Dalewood has a very strong partnership with the High School, and have found many ways to keep building this relationship. As I stated it went from feeding hungry students before games, a food pantry, to the pastor creating a prayer time, and a Fellowship of Christian Athletes in which 50 plus students have attended. We have had 2 students come to Christ and be baptized and another to happen very soon , a football coach join the church in supporting this mission. Thanks for giving me the opportunity to share this with you and your followers. I hope sharing this allows others to see the potential of listening for Gods call for their church.

    “With God all THINGS are POSSIBLE.” Matthew 19:26

  • Two things our church is known for in the community are an emphasis on youth ministries year ’round (not just VBS) and emphasis on missionary outreach work beginning at home and reaching to “the uttermost.”

    (It hasn’t always been this way. It was just the opposite thirty years ago. It took a generation to change our negative image in the community.)

  • Hal Hunter says on

    Last year I was coaching the pastor of a struggling local church in a changing neighborhood. I asked what his church was celebrating. He answered, “VBS. We had over 80 kids participate, mostly from our school. It was great.”

    I asked how many from the community not already associated through the school. He thought for a moment and answered, “I’m not sure, but I can’t think of any.”

    Later in the conversation I asked what challenges they were facing. He immediately responded, “We are trying to find the $150,000 we need to repair our steeple. It’s in really bad shape.”

    I asked him, with all the other problems and challenges they faced, why was the steeple important enough to spend $150,000 when there were so many other needs and they were already barely meeting budget.

    He answered, “That steeple and its cross represents Christ in our neighborhood.”

    • Wow! Just, wow!

    • [Hal Hunter] ‘He answered, “That steeple and its cross represents Christ in our neighborhood.” ‘

      This is jaw-dropping sad. The pastor should know that the people, not any cross nor steeple should represent Christ in the neighborhood. The pastor should go back and read the gospels and learn about Jesus.

  • Robin G Jordan says on

    At one point the congregation considered moving to the community from which most of its members came but decided against the move because there was no guarantee that it would do any better at a new location and it had a building at its present location. It must be noted that the community from which most of the past and present members of the congregation have come has a thriving church in the same ecclesiastical tradition but in a different denomination. Differences in worship and theology divide the two churches and rule out the possibility of a merger.

  • The most interesting one was a small church I pastored that we found it was known in the community as the little white church on the hill. The church was redish orange brick. The community around it had changed drastically. The church for awhile tried to fit into the community. They never discouraged and even welcomed the people, but the church aged and could no longer reach out into the community. By the time we merged with two other churches we were the little white church on the hill.

    Sadly the church I pastor now was once a large strong church in the community, and now is not even known. It has aged so greatly that it has lost its ability to reach the community. Actually it lost it long before now. If we closed tomorrow no one would know or even miss us. Sad because these are good people in a revitalized and thriving community.

  • Jeff Collins says on

    A monster split that produced a new church less than 3 miles away, and a ” cold war” that still exists despite the fact many of those involved has passed on. I knew of it when I came as pastor, but wasn’t prepared for the negative idea the community still has of my church

  • Robin G. Jordan says on

    I suspect that my church is not known for anything. None of its members live in the community and the church has negligible connections to the community. The few people that I have spoken to so far have never heard of the church or they did not know it existed or they drive past all the time but have never visited it. If the church were to close tomorrow, the only people who would miss it would be the utilities companies and the florist who would lose a customer and a local prenatal and maternity clinic who would lose a donor.

    • Your church, Robin, is unfortunately not alone.

    • Robin G Jordan says on

      I would add that it is not that the demographics of the church do not match the demographics of the community. For the most part the makeup of church fits with the the makeup of the community.

      The church came to be located where it is because its founding pastor lived in that community and another church had outgrown its building and put the building and the property it was on up for sale. The founding pastor lived in walking distance of the building. Most of its members did not live in the community. They came from other communities.

  • Bob Myers says on

    Dr. Rainer, et. al.,

    Unrelated, but I inadvertently unsubscribed about a week ago. I tried to re-subscribe with your pop-up but it wouldn’t let me. Give me some love and help me reconnect.


  • 1) A broad church-centered AND community-focused music program that touches families of “nones” and families from other congregations (we don’t steal sheep!). Program includes multiple choirs, brass ensemble, children’s chimes, handbells (vets and beginners; adults; yourh and children; flute ensemble; five concerts/recitals annually.
    2) For a nutritional program that provides a banquet-style meal for two low-income elder-care assisted living retirement villages with a partner church.
    3) A growing response to the homeless in our community … multi-church that includes a food pantry servicing 1200+ families/month and soup/sandwich meals to homeless camps weekly
    4) Disaster (mostly hurricanes and tropical storms) Response Team ministry.
    5) A consistently and authentically welcoming Sunday worship and fellowship experience … great music, post-service brunch and extended visiting.

    • Craig Giddens says on

      6) Sound Bible preaching and teaching? (actually should be number 1)

      • Rob Wagner says on

        You’re missing the point of the article. We’re assuming a Great Commission church that operates in the spirit of the Great Commandment IS focused on sound biblical preaching and teaching. However, that’s NOT ENOUGH to get people in the doors to hear it.

    • Candice says on

      A beautiful blend of evangelization! Thank you, Dr William.

      My parish (Catholic) is very inwardly-focused, and it has been nearly insurmountable for the leadership to grasp the importance of being connected and in our community~ especially since our two beautiful worship sites are located city-center *and* among the poorest in our community.

      While disciple-making has been a push, there has not been a connectedness that discipleship is greatly enhanced by seeing the face of Christ~ for us to discover and embrace~ outside the walls of our parish. My parish is not growing despite the other Catholic church located in the same city-center areas.

      And, virtually no efforts to bring Christ to others through our faith-in-action other than occasionally doing a second collection at offertory. The other serious piece being the parish children and youth~ we are not setting a positive example. My parish is not at
      all a reflection of our Catholic Social Justice, and it is not representative of the greater Catholic community.

      That’s why a senior Catholic woman is on this Baptist website~ to learn from the disciple- making and evangelism experts!

      Thank you to Dr Rainer and all the commenters; it is greatly appreciated! You are a
      wonderful example of living-out the Great Commission.

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