What can a church do when it desires to reach its local community but isn’t sure where to start?
That’s the question Steven Ruff, who has served for five years as pastor of First Baptist Church in Perry, Florida, answered with his one-day conference, “The Church on Mission: Finding Your Fit in Your Community.”
The conference was written from his experience serving as pastor at a church in Beaufort, South Carolina. When he arrived at the church in Beaufort, there was essentially no community involvement or outreach until he felt a deep conviction to begin leading the church in actively serving its local community.
“In three years, we turned a ‘staying’ church into a ‘sending’ church,” said Ruff, a native Floridian.
This fall, Fellowship Baptist Church of Apalachicola hosted the three-hour conference and plans to apply many of the principles covered in the coming year.
Mac McMillan, an attorney and also bi-vocational pastor at Fellowship Baptist Church, has been involved in church planting and recovery work, mission agency work and pastoral ministry for more than 30 years. He knew his church had a desire to reach its community, but it needed some inspiration and direction.
Nearly 20 attendees, mostly church members, along with Troy Varnum, director of missions, Northwest Coast Baptist Association, and Torey Blackman, pastor, Fellowship Baptist Church in Carrabelle, attended the conference with a desire to learn how to effectively go into their communities and spread Christ’s love.
“A church can create a long list of excuses as to why they can’t invest in their local mission. To see a large percentage of Fellowship Baptist’s regular attenders desiring to be known as engagers was a great blessing,” Varnum said. “Our association believes so much in the need for churches to connect with community that we were a financial sponsor of the event.”
Through the conference, attendees were challenged to envision community engagement, develop partnerships in community ministry and get to know their community through demographics and personal contacts.
Ruff, who also serves as a Florida Baptist Disaster Relief chaplain, distinguished the difference between “staying” and “sending” churches and outlined the intentional nature of community ministry principles, challenging the church to make community engagement a long-term budgeting priority.
“Looking back, I’ve written the training material I wish had been available for me when I was leading the church through the difficult season of change,” Ruff said. “I desire to share these lessons with other church leaders so they may be better equipped and encouraged to engage and reach their communities for Jesus Christ.”