Vegetables to Alpha: The ‘secret sauce’ of community outreach

Emma Nielsen July 13, 2017


First published in expanded form on the 22nd November 2016 at loveyourneighbour.nz

A while back, Love Your Neighbour published a story about the thriving, outward-focused Riccarton Community Church (RCC). Back then it was clear that their ‘secret sauce’ was focusing on relationships. Here’s a new story told to me by volunteer Nicki Aitken that bears it out!

Church member Jonny Parry-Jennings had a strong desire to make connections in the community, and eventually hit on a plan. Here’s the big idea. The community is invited to pre-order fruit and vegetables direct from the morning markets through Johnny, spending about half of what they would at the supermarket. During the course of the morning Jonny picks up the market produce, then he and his volunteers bag it up for people to collect from the church hall. Collection happens on Wednesday mornings, and the church is very intentional about making the venue a warm and friendly place.

“We are seeing more and more people come to pick up their veges and then choosing to hang with us and their friends for a while,” says Nicki. “We promote this by providing soup, bread and coffee. We have church folk who go along to the co-op just to hang with the community too!” Nicki tells me that a group of ladies who met at the Co-op now have a regular Friday lunch date.

RCC has been doing introductory bible course Alpha for a number of years, but recognised that they’ve always missed those folk who can’t get out at night because of family or other commitments.

As they considered running a daytime Alpha, they immediately thought of their Craft Group (which also meets on Wednesday mornings) and the Vege Co-op people as prime invitees.

    “We ended up with an all-ladies’ Alpha group on Wednesday afternoons – 4 church people, 5 from the Vege     Co-op and 1 from the Craft Group,” Nicki shared. Several have made faith commitments, with others still on     the journey.

This seeking didn’t end with the bible study course however. “These ladies formed a real bond and didn’t want it to end,” explains Nicki. “They are also spiritually hungry. We’ve ended up having a regular Bible study using a book on the parables of Jesus.”

    “Our church is changing its face as more and more locals are coming in via portals we have created such as     our street party and Vege Co-op,” Nicki rejoices. Most churches have no idea how to make this happen for     them though – what is their secret? “It’s important we don’t minimise the impact of prayer in this, because     we have been praying about our effectiveness in our community for a very long time,” says Nicki. “But if     there’s a secret it’s the individuals who take time to connect and make friends and who are also thinking     about who else they should be connected to. We keep praying for more people to be engaged connectors!”

What a great example of a thriving church culture! If your church is thinking through how to reach out to their community, why not take a look at the training and resources that Love Your Neighbour provides? No matter how big or small your idea is, get in touch for support today.

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