At the Last Supper, Jesus washed the disciples’ feet before they ate. He did this to set “an example that you should do as I have done for you . . . Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them” (John 13:14-17). Jesus’ act of servanthood modeled the lifestyle he desires for churches and Christians today.
Living a life of service to neighbors and community can be messy. When sin entered the world (Genesis 3), brokenness seeped into all relationships; with God, ourselves, creation, and one another. This brokenness manifests itself in a myriad of ways and while our communities are filled with tremendous assets and reflections of God’s image, it is clear things are not as He intended. Whether meeting an immediate need or building long-term relationships, Lutheran Foundation recognizes that each congregation will respond differently to the community where God has placed them. Regardless of the response, Lutheran Foundation hopes congregations will pursue a transformational approach grounded in building deep relationships with their community. It is through these relationships that the Church is ultimately brought into the lives of hurting people and people included in the healing life of the Church.
Congregations act as a powerful force in modeling Christ’s servant leadership when they seek out ways to engage their communities. As Christians, our faith in Jesus compels us to serve and love our neighbors, just as Jesus did. We don’t have to travel far to see ways to live out our faith; our communities are ripe with opportunities to reflect the love of Jesus in tangible, life-giving ways. Lutheran Foundation has provided a significant portion of our grant awards over the past three decades to area congregations to carry out these important efforts to serve and engage communities throughout St. Louis. Over the years, we have helped churches launch or grow food pantries, after-school programs, homeless outreach services, counseling programs, parish nurse ministries, and much more – all of which minister to those in need.
Lutheran Foundation has found, through our own funding experience and external research, six factors that contribute to a successful community engagement effort:
- A vision to engage the community, not just the congregation;
- Strong initial planning for the ministry/effort and congregation buy-in;
- Strong, effective leadership (both lay and clergy) which motivates and inspires others to share actively in a ministry;
- Awareness of congregational and community assets and a good fit (skills, interests, and leadership) between those involved and the target population/community;
- Ability and humility to adopt a listening/learning posture with the community that leads to mutuality; and
- Ongoing congregational participation in implementing the outreach effort(s).
Outcomes describe, in broad terms, the measurable change within each Funding Focus Area that Lutheran Foundation would like to see in the lives of those served by grantees. Outcomes allow the Foundation to aggregate indicators across multiple grantees to determine our community impact.
Christian congregations seeking funding from the Foundation must demonstrate how their project will address one or more of the following outcomes:
Congregations have in place quality community engagement efforts that meet the needs and assets of the congregation and the community.
Congregations believe that part of their response to the Gospel is to become engaged in the hurting lives of people in the community.
Those served by congregations experience improved outcomes.
The Foundation continues to encourage congregations to reach out to their surrounding communities through organized, effective social service outreach ministry efforts. We also recognize congregations are looking for innovative ways, outside the traditional social service outreach model, to build relationships and engage their communities.
We look to accomplish this in two ways:
- Supporting congregations as they work to engage and serve their neighbors and community through planning and program implementation grants.
- Strengthening the ability of congregations to engage in community engagement efforts through coaching assistance, mentoring, and training (through Send Me St. Louis).