Pastor’s Column: God’s Kindness Shown Through Local Outreach
I’ve had the opportunity to serve as the Local Project Director at River Valley Church for almost four years. Our lead pastor, Rob Ketterling demonstrates the proverbs that say the house of the generous grows larger and larger and generosity begets generosity, so the people of River Valley are incredibly generous. There are 8 metro campuses and it is a joy to watch the campuses make themselves available to their respective communities by either being present and volunteering at a community event or partnering with local organizations to help them serve the local residents. We believe the act of preparing and serving a meal, pulling weeds, or providing school supplies are all opportunities for the kindness of God to be shown to individuals, schools, and whole communities.
The overarching focus for local outreach at River Valley is to serve the poor, the forgotten, and those in our community. This year we have identified three filters in which to serve the poor, the forgotten, and those in our community:
- The Foreign Born
- Foster Care
- Strong Community Presence
River Valley Church values the presence of God and reaching those who have yet to be reached with the Gospel so they might have access to the presence of God. I felt a distinct leading from the Lord to begin actively pursuing how we as a church can serve the foreign born among us.
Whether it is through English support or simply being a good neighbor, I believe it is an imperative from the Lord to serve and outreach to the world that has come to our doorstep here in the Twin Cities. Raising awareness and being involved in the rescue of those involved in modern day slavery through the sex industry is an area that has often come up in conversations with attendees at River Valley Church. We believe by coming alongside the foster care system we can have an impact on a vulnerable population and have a direct effect on those being targeted for the sex trade. Finally, having a strong presence in the community is a call from Jesus. We are charged to “let our light so shine before men that they may see our good works and glorify God.”
What has worked at River Valley Church?
One of most successful endeavors we have is partnering with local, national and international organizations in the form of clothing, food, or other types of item drives. During the holiday season, we participate with Samaritan’s Purse through Operation Christmas Child and Prison Fellowship through Angel Tree. We choose to partner with organizations making an impact rather than start our own endeavor because we believe it isn’t necessary to recreate the wheel of service when organizations have pioneered and made inroads into meeting very real felt needs in their serving area.
Each quarter there will be a large event across all campuses for the purpose of partnering with a local organization or serving the local community. I like to call these on- ramp events because creating a regular rhythm of service has to begin somewhere. I believe by being a part of a large outreach event the heart is postured to see the community in a new way.
An annual event that falls into the on-ramp is Serve Your City. Each of our campuses connects with their city officials and local community groups to see how they can serve. We have seen some great relationships grow from the simple act of showing up to help. Within the last year, we’ve begun to roll out a team of people or a point person at each campus to be eyes and ears to help identify needs in the local community. These teams help the campuses to respond to needs in a more timely way to the needs identified. This model has proven to be beneficial for campuses to have ongoing community outreach opportunities and build momentum for serving in the local community.
What are some things you try to keep in mind when planning a community outreach?
We ask what is needed of those in the surrounding area. When I first came on staff, we had several ideas of fun things to do but not meet a need in the community or help a local organization to meet the needs they had identified. Creating space to have those types of conversations is integral to planning an outreach. After needs have been identified we determine if the outreach is something that can happen on a regular basis i.e. monthly, quarterly, or annually. I have found in paying attention to the outreaches that become part of a campus rhythm, often doors are opened for new relationships to be formed in the community and most importantly trust is built which opens the door for the Church to “feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick and the prisoner.”
What has contributed to the success of the local project efforts at River Valley?
Working in a multi-site context has shown me it is vital to have campus leadership buy in on all initiatives taking place whether it is a house or campus specific initiative. For each campus there must be a person or team passionate about reaching the local community and finally there must be clear ways of engagement in reaching the local community. I have found in my time at River Valley by providing a clear way for people to put their heart passion into action or to spark a passion in their heart, momentum for local outreach begins to rise. We want people to be recipients of God’s kindness through us, so they might come to repentance (Romans 2:4).