Engaging the Church

The Church and Refugees: Part 1

Are you passionate about refugees and hope your church will get more involved? Are you frustrated by the fear that seems so common among Christians when it comes to immigrants and refugees in America? In this series on the Church and refugees we're discussing three key steps that can transform a church and help them to understand God's heart for refugees and get involved in practically serving them. These three steps are 1) engaging the Church, 2) educating the Church, and 3) acting as the Church. Today let's discuss the first step: engaging the Church. (If you missed the formal introduction to this series, click here.)

The Importance of Engaging the Church

Engaging the Church is the first step toward growing a church's excitement about refugees and immigrants. I used to think that educating churches about the refugee crisis and opportunities to share the gospel with refugees in America was the most important thing I could do to convince my fellow Christians to serve refugees. Unfortunately, I was wrong. Education is important, of course, but it is the second step in this process (we'll discuss how you can go about educating your church next week). Engaging the Church refers to the process of building relationships within your own church so that you will have a trusting and curious group of church members who want to learn more about refugees. Without laying the foundation of genuine relationships you cannot expect that your church or its leadership will ever be interested in working with refugees.

Change Happens From Within

Before you can expect your church to pay attention to your efforts to educate them about refugees, you must be engaging the church on a consistent basis. This is why I believe that the best way (and perhaps only way) to truly get a church excited about and involved in refugee ministry is through the influence of an individual church member or family who has caught the vision first. Engaging the church requires an intimate relationship with the church through regular attendance, service and significant relationships with other members. Church members are far more likely to have these connections, which is why change must happen from within.

[bctt tweet="Changing how a church responds to an issue like #refugees must happen from within. " username="refugee_review"]

There are a number of Christians who work with refugee resettlement agencies in order to educate churches about refugees and advocate for greater church involvement in refugee ministry, but notice that their primary job is to educate. These individuals, though incredibly valuable to step two (as we will see next week), will not be able to do their job effectively if they do not have at least one church member on the inside who is engaging the church. If you are excited about refugees and long to see your church more involved in serving them, then you must begin the process by consistently engaging the church in order to prepare it for education in the future. There are several key ways you can be a catalyst to your church's involvement in refugee ministry.

1. Share Your Passion

If you have grown passionate about refugees and are involved in serving them in some way (volunteering, etc.), don't keep it a secret! Of course, you shouldn't brag about it either, instead just let your interest in and experiences with refugees naturally bubble over into conversations with your friends from church. If they ask how your week was, tell them about the wonderful meal you shared with your refugee friends, or express your sadness about the migrants who are dying as they cross the Mediterranean. If the political aspects of refugee resettlement arise you can humbly offer your perspective and then recommend a book like Seeking Refuge if they want to learn more. Slowly help your friends realize that you're passionate about refugees and that they can talk to you if they have questions about refugee related issues.

2. Talk to Your Pastor

[bctt tweet="Getting a church involved in a new ministry typically happens from the top down." username="refugee_review"]

Most churches have some sort of hierarchy, a chain of command that you have to be aware of when introducing new ideas for service or ministry. If your desire is to see your church become involved in refugee ministry in some way, you must express that desire to your pastor and/or elders. Though you can make a significant difference by sharing your passion for refugees in regular conversation with other church members, if you want to see the whole church's attitude toward refugees transformed, you will need your church leadership to be on board. This is because getting a church involved in a new ministry typically happens from the top down.

The diagram below shows that church transformation happens when the leaders of the church have a vision informed by their theology and history that they then share with their congregation. Together the leaders and members of the church invest in ministry which has an impact on both the church and its community.

Once you've shared your interest and involvement in refugee ministry with a number of church friends and your church leadership has caught your vision for refugee ministry, you can act as a bridge between your church and a refugee resettlement agency (like World Relief) as you move to the next step - education. Next Monday we'll discuss the process of educating a church about refugees and I'll provide a list of excellent resources that can help. If you don't want to miss out on the rest of this series, sign up for our newsletter in the form below!

What other ways can individuals engage their churches to prepare them to learn more about refugees? Do you agree that engaging the Church, greasing the wheels, so to speak, is important?