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Restoring the Role of Churches in Our Communities

Apr 29, 2024

“If your church closed its doors, would anyone in the community care?” That’s a question that keeps pastors and church leaders up at night, but it isn’t a question for them alone. Every Christian should be invested enough in their local church to wrestle with that dilemma. We are all called to love our neighbors, to share the Gospel, and to make disciples, but those can be daunting assignments for any one of us to undertake alone. That’s one of the reasons why Christ instituted the church. When we assemble the diverse gifts in His Body and encourage each other in living missionally, we can accomplish more for His Kingdom than any of us can do on our own.

So how is it going? Are our churches making real impacts with the Gospel in our neighborhoods? Are we truly affecting the hearts of our neighbors by living out the Good News? We are undoubtedly facing some unique roadblocks in our current western culture. Firstly, we’ve lost what it means to truly be neighborly. With the rise of individualism comes greater independence and isolation. Secondly, the growing secularization of North America has eroded trust in the church and displaced it from the position it once held at the heart of our communities. And lastly, we’re still coping with the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic that has done more damage to our sense of community.

What is the path forward to reigniting love for our neighbors and restoring the church to serve a vital role in our communities? One option churches have been exploring is the adoption of an anchor cause.

What is an Anchor Cause?
An anchor cause is a singular need in a community where a church can focus its energy and efforts to love and serve. With this approach, a church doesn’t simply contribute to other community organizations to meet a given need, but instead chooses to take ownership and lead the way. Examples range from operating a soup kitchen or homeless shelter to supporting specific demographic such as indigenous peoples or new immigrants. If successful in its efforts, the church can become known as the go-to organization in its community for the anchor cause it serves.

Benefits of Anchor Causes
Churches have traditionally taken an ad hoc approach to serving our communities — a park event for kids, a free car wash, a food drive at Thanksgiving, etc. Depending on the size and makeup of the community, this can often result in single touches that never develop into consistent or meaningful relationships with neighbors. By honing in on a specific anchor cause, churches can increase the regularity with which we are serving and interacting with the same people, thereby nurturing relationships.

Another benefit of anchor causes is that they are attractive to people outside the church who have a desire to do good in their communities. Not only will anchor causes provide opportunities to form relationships with the people that we are serving, but they also create a clear, actionable invite to our unchurched friends and neighbors to join in our efforts. For those who join us, some will have their first exposure to Christ’s church despite never having set foot inside a church building. What better way to introduce someone to Jesus than by serving side-by-side?

Clearly, an anchor cause requires a shift in thinking and a big commitment for any church, but getting started doesn’t have to be complicated. Emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic, Renew Church in Canada began considering how to re-engage God’s mission. The predominant Canadian culture had already been rapidly moving away from its Christian roots when lockdowns caused another setback in Renew’s outreach. That’s when lead pastor Bartley Sawatsky began exploring the idea of adopting an anchor cause.

A Case Study in Canada
In late 2022, Renew Church began a series of meetings inviting the congregation to brainstorm and identify potential needs in the two communities it serves, Mississauga and Milton, Ontario. After several discussions, participants in the sessions began to hone in on two anchor causes.

In Mississauga, Renew Church plans to address the need for community-building. The part of the city that the church serves is made up of sprawling suburban neighborhoods and has become home to many new Canadians. Residents of this area are lacking connection and opportunities to form new relationships. Renew Church has plans to create spaces where families can gather on a consistent basis, including game nights and a movie-in-the-park series. The church has already hosted some successful events and received the endorsement of local politicians.

In Milton, Renew Church has the benefit of past experience in the form of a ministry that offered hands-on help to neighbors in need such as house and yard cleanup, auto repairs, and other odd jobs. Building from that initial ministry, the Milton team has decided to refocus these efforts on helping single parents who may have difficulty keeping up with the demands of work, parenting, and house upkeep.

How Do I Start an Anchor Cause?
Is an anchor cause something that could mobilize your church in your community? If you’re thinking about getting started, here are some first steps Renew Church has taken that might be helpful:

  • Form a team – In order to identify an anchor cause, you’ll need a variety of perspectives from people with different backgrounds, experiences, and connections in your community. Once you’ve found your anchor cause, you’ll need a diverse mix of gifts to meet the need. This is an initiative that can benefit from the gifts of the entire Body of Christ.
  • Don’t rush – Finding an anchor cause will require you to identify an unmet need in your community and match it with the gifts in your church. Where the community’s need and your church’s strengths converge is the sweet spot. Finding the right fit can take time.
  • Start small – This is a big undertaking, and God might bless you with a big dream, but you won’t be able to do it all right away. Identify a starting point that is manageable for you and your team. For example, for Renew Church that means building momentum and consistency with small events in Mississauga, and beginning to find and form connections with single parents in Milton.

Above all, “whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).

Written by Marek Kowalsky for the Year in Review 2022–2023. Marek is the communications director and part of the pastoral staff at Renew Church in Mississauga, Ontario. Since first getting involved in ministry at the former Village Community church in 2008, he has served in a variety of staff and leadership roles and was part of the team that launched Renew Church from a merger of the Village and Grace Community Church. Marek currently lives in Milton, Ontario, Canada, with his wife Jennifer and their three children, where he also operates a freelance creative services business.