“Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there!” I’m sure while reading this line you were singing the jingle in your head, right? It’s a familiar one to many. And what a nice sentiment. As a corporate slogan, it totally works. And why? Because when we read the words ‘good neighbour’, I think most of us can agree what that looks like: friendly, respectful, considerate, and trustworthy. Jay Van Groningen, from Communities First, sums it up by saying that a good neighbor takes care of their own property and looks out for the neighbours immediately around them.
However, he goes on to say that a great neighbour is someone who cares for the condition of the entire community – someone who knows everyone’s name and brings them together to address the issues facing the community. Great neighbours are those who come together and have the shared goal to make their community a better place to live, for all.
A great neighbour is someone who cares for the condition of the entire community – someone who brings them together to address the issues facing the community.
Enter Meadowlands CRC in Ancaster, ON. Perhaps you’ve been following their story in the news. From late March to April, the Ancaster church was vandalized four times, each time with glass windows and doors being shattered, but luckily no property being taken. (See news articles here and here.)
Something that you won’t read in those news stories, though, is how the church had been praying for this to happen. Well, okay, not for this exact thing to happen. But, about 8 weeks ago, the church began praying to God to give them something in common with the neighbourhood. The church had opened its doors in the new Meadowlands neighbourhood of Ancaster in 2005 and since then, some community engagement had been going on, but it was minimal. The church didn’t seem to have any natural or obvious connections with their immediate neighbourhood; nothing in common with them. A COS had been conducted around the same time and, according to Steve Dykstra, a newer staff member at Meadowlands who oversees the church’s outreach ministries, not much came out of it. In 2016, the church applied for an Operation Manna grant in order to partner with Christians Against Poverty to open a Debt Counseling Service, and while this ministry is going strong and meeting a need to many in the Ancaster and upper Hamilton area, many of their clientele do not live in the immediate Meadowlands neighbourhood.
While hosting a chat with the Classis Hamilton churches, Marian Lensink, a coach with the Connections Project, heard about the church’s struggle to connect with their community. She encouraged the church and its leaders to start praying more intentionally and see what God would do. So they did! Two weeks later, the vandalism began happening at Meadowlands Church. When the church began talking to neighbours and seeing social media posts pop-up, they discovered that residents had been reporting house break-ins, vehicles stolen and damaged property as well.
While this was NOT the answer to prayer the church expected, Steve said that “the church couldn’t think of any other avenue that would have given them the same common experience!” The church saw this as a window of opportunity; God had answered their prayers! This was a way for the church to be the great neighbour to their surrounding community they were hoping to be. They decided to host a Community Meeting and, on May 7th, police, politicians, church members, and local residents gathered together in the church to talk about the ongoing vandalism and what could be done.
Moving forward, the church hopes to create a “community hub” for the Meadowlands neighbourhood that will gather to identify and talk about the needs for residents and to be a unified voice for safety. What an incredible story of seeking and discovering where God was at work, and then joining Him!
What About Your Church?
If you follow the work of the Leadership Network down in Dallas, TX, one of their focus areas is on “externally focused churches.” In the abundance of resources they offer, they remind us that the ‘missional church movement’ is first and foremost about the movement of God. For churches, this means joining God in what He is doing to move them towards becoming a community of great neighbours. (Wendy McCraig)
In one of his training videos, Eric Swanson opens with this question:
If your church were to disappear, would anyone in the community notice? If they noticed, would they care?
(Vaughn McLaughlin, pastor)
This is the question Meadowlands was ultimately wrestling with, and perhaps one for your church to take some time to ponder. I’m sure many of us have experienced that feeling of sadness and dread when we’ve seen that amazing neighbour across the street put up the “For Sale” sign. In the same way, how would your neighbourhood react if your doors closed for good?
Ephesians 2:7-10 from The Message says,
“Now God has us where he wants us, with all the time in this world and the next to shower grace and kindness upon us in Christ Jesus. Saving is all his idea, and all his work. All we do is trust him enough to let him do it. It’s God’s gift from start to finish! We don’t play the major role. If we did, we’d probably go around bragging that we’d done the whole thing! No, we neither make nor save ourselves. God does both the making and saving. He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing.” [emphasis mine]
Ephesians 2 reminds us that we are where we are for a reason! And on top of that, God is always on the move, having prepared good works for us to discover and then go about doing. It’s not all on us to plan and prepare and invent these opportunities ourselves! This is the foundation of all community engagement. We are grateful for churches like Meadowlands who have gone through some tough circumstances, but who are learning what it means to follow God through whatever doors He opens in order to reach their community with the love of Christ.
“The church does not have a mission, but the Mission of God has a church!” (Christopher J.H. Wright)