In our lifetimes, we’re getting the privilege of witnessing a radical transformation. Those old enough have watched “church” gradually become defined by most Americans as a place people go on Sundays and evangelism reduced to extending invitation to an event to hear from a “professional”. Today, we’re seeing the Coronavirus pandemic expose the flaws of centralizing “church” around a building – pastors are realizing they haven’t equipped members to share the Gospel with those in the neighborhoods where they’re quarantined. Even before the COVID-19 crisis, we had been seeing momentum build toward a revival in the future – a transition of discipleship, compassion and evangelism responsibilities and expectations back to the congregation, where they belong.
Admittedly, Meet The Need had been guilty of naively misunderstanding the biblical definition of “church” during much of its nearly 20 year history. In our efforts to serve large churches, we built systems that unwittingly enabled their facility-centric, controlled model – helping them initiate, organize and track all local mission activities. Despite our best efforts to encourage year-round outreach, our past systems have been used primarily by churches to support seasonal events – which often do more harm than good.
Somehow, for far too long, we missed that believers are the “living stones” of the New Testament church with Christ as its Cornerstone (1 Peter 2:5-9). Meet The Need’s mission statement has always been “to mobilize and equip the Church to lead millions more to Christ by following Jesus’ example of meeting those in need exactly where they are.” We’re still living out that same mission but our understanding of the “Church” that we are to mobilize and equip has evolved. The world always calls for more centralization, typically for the sake of political power or financial gain by a few, but the Kingdom calls for greater decentralization, empowering the many through the Holy Spirit’s presence in every Christ-follower. Therefore, Meet The Need is evolving our strategies and systems as the Lord has revealed His redemptive plans to reform His Church to align with Kingdom principles.
1) Past – “Church” as Institution
Issues: In 2000, the body of Christ was highly fragmented, with churches and ministries not working together closely in cities around shared objectives. It was apparent that significant communication gaps existed across the country between those in need and those who could help. Church staff had become a bottleneck, stifling compassion by exposing members to a limited number of opportunities to serve in the community. Discipleship likewise was on the decline as outreach became more infrequent and corporate, reducing the urgency of training individual churchgoers for deployment into ministry.
Meet The Need Solution: In 2002, Meet The Need began as God-Will.org, a highly-personalized approach to filling those gaps by simply asking lower income families about their needs and sharing them directly through an “app” with members of a few churches in Tampa Bay. Soon other local churches and ministries began to catch wind of someone finally bringing modern tools to the longstanding problem of managing and communicating needs for volunteers, events, families and drives. They promised “build it and we will come”, so we invested heavily in designing and developing those systems.
A decade later, by 2012 Meet The Need had rolled out our platforms in over 70 U.S. cities and 3 countries in partnerships with mega-churches, ministries and city movements. Then national charities started to call, asking whether they could leverage Meet The Need to address social issues such as hunger, homelessness, child neglect and disaster relief. Those successes include what is now the largest food rescue platform in the U.S. Despite spending millions, Meet The Need is a Christ-centered non-profit and does not charge for any of our core software or services. All glory to God for allowing what was certainly a terrible “business” model to thrive. The Lord did miracle after miracle to overcome any legal, financial or personnel obstacles along the way.
2) Present – “Church” Forcibly Decentralizing
Issues: No one was prepared for a pandemic, and the Church is no exception. The COVID-19 crisis has flung the door wide open to spiritual conversations – it often takes a physical illness to seek spiritual health. While many churches are active in providing relief and support to families impacted, churchgoers are missing countless opportunities to share the Gospel because they’ve abdicated that responsibility to pastors for so long. Most can’t answer the tough questions – afraid to go beyond sharing a personal testimony (which no one can refute) and extending an invitation to an online church service. Churches haven’t discipled members in preparation for today’s separation because they lacked a community or neighborhood strategy – few leaders have even ever seen a map of where their members live. The church is scattered but is still the church even when it can’t gather. Yet rather than adjusting to enable neighborhood ministry, most are scrambling to figure out how to continue the status quo online while they can’t convene in a sanctuary.
Meet The Need Solution: Behind the scenes, we’ve been working for 2 years on a decentralized Artificial Intelligence system designed to empower struggling families to build circles of support (e.g. family, friends, churches), plotting their own paths to a better future. Working directly with families is a return to our God-Will.org roots but represents a significant leap from Meet The Need’s past 10+ years serving church and ministry administrators. However, the Coronavirus pandemic is providing a segue with our introduction of Love Your Neighbor. Love Your Neighbor is a hybrid, an interim step on the way to our AI platform, which will fully empower individuals and families to care for one another. Love Your Neighbor still serves corporate churches by letting them appoint neighborhood advocates to post needs on behalf of local families and communicate those back to the church body. The app also enables church staff to see a Google Map of all their neighborhoods and needs posted by leaders.
3) Future – “Church” as Body of Believers
Issues: We cannot let the current COVID-19 crisis become another case of seasonal outreach that ends as soon as we get back in our buildings. Families will still be lost and hurting when the virus has run its course, but will wonder why the church’s support has dried up – only to realize that they’ve resumed business as usual, “checked the box” and are likely celebrating how kind they were during the pandemic. Decades of institutional focus have led to corporate compassion and evangelism, which are transactional – providing short-term assistance and a quick Gospel reference with a passing invitation to those who don’t worship God to a worship service. Treating those suffering as a commodity is not dignifying and does not lead to life transformation. What will spark revival of the Church in our nation is intentional discipling relationships sustained by millions of individual believers with neighbors and coworkers over long periods.
Meet The Need Solution: We didn’t anticipate this pandemic, but we can already see how it is awakening pastors to the importance of empowering each member to reach out to those in need, providing opportunities for one-on-one evangelism and discipleship. We foresee a future demand for solutions geared to equip every family to build circles of supportive relationships that take the burden off the church to plan the next outreach event. Maybe churches aren’t quite ready to shift wholeheartedly to prepping each member to be the “pastor of their neighborhood”, so Love Your Neighbor is a stepping-stone in 2020 to the AI platform Meet The Need will be releasing in 2021. The Lord is working out His perfect plan, edging the church toward decentralization on the way to fully empowering disciples for GC2 (the Great Commandment and Great Commission).
It’s Your Turn
Find out more about Love Your Neighbor and get your church started using it today – at no charge! Your church could actually increase its impact for Christ in your community right now, not in spite of but as a result of not being able to meet in the building due to the pandemic.