Finding a church to belong to is a complex, and often frustrating, process that many folks find themselves facing each week around the world. So many questions! Here is a list of things that I think are important in a church.
1. A Solid Jesus Culture
This is number one, hands down. When looking for a new church, notice what the church worships. At its best, the church worships the triune God (Father, Son, and Spirit) and seeks to be disciples in loving community. However, as we are all so fallible, "idols" can sneak in and take center stage. Idols are things that take first place as an object of worship in the church. Examples of idols that we see right now in the US are: Christian nationalism, LGBT+ inclusion, political affiliations, worshipping the Bible instead of God, or the size of our church and building. Take care that you do not fall into the trap of worshipping something other than God; it is easy to do.
2. Friendly People
How many people said "hello" to you the first day at the new church? Did anyone take an interest in you being there? Or did most folks, unfortunately, stay in their friend group and not speak to you? These questions help us understand how friendly the church is. After all, don't we go to church to form quality relationships? And if only the people who are paid to talk to you did, then it might be an unfriendly church where you might struggle to make connections.
3. A Solid Mission
What is this church trying to accomplish? Who are they trying to speak to? As much as it pains me to say it, there are good missions and there are bad missions. For example, focusing on ministry to children and their families is a good mission, while focusing on growing the number of people in your organization is not. So ask yourself, can I clearly see how this church wants to change the world? And, is it something that I can commit to and really give to? That is a great starting place.
4. A Place to Grow
Does this church offer me (and my family) opportunities to grow in relationship to God and in my following of Jesus? Key things to look for here are vibrant worship experiences, meaningful discipleship classes, serving opportunities, and other places to use the gifts and talents that God has given you. "Blind faith" is never a good idea and it always disappoints. We are smart, creative beings that thrive when challenged -- does this church seek to bring out the best in you?
You will notice I did not say Awesome Preaching, a Fabulous Building, or Programming. Why? Because those things are nice, but not necessary. A nice building does not put you any closer to God than a block of cheese does. Programming changes and is often linked to church size and resources. In my opinion, seeking these things as primary will leave you disappointed as no church can compete with the flash of corporate America. What a church can do is love God with their whole being, and love others as themselves. Churches can give self-sacrificially to implement the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Family Service Rochester began in 1965 with a staff of just three. FSR's mission is to support and enhance the dignity and quality of life for individuals and families in our community. Some fifty seven years later, the organization has a staff of 150+, over 600 volunteers, and runs over thirty programs in twelve Minnesota counties. They focus on doing good in the areas of mental health, child-wellbeing, family stability, and senior independence.
"I have a heart for the older adults, and I love working with them."
This past summer I volunteered at FSR and had a great time doing it. The wonderful ladies who connect volunteers and those who need a task done (Jennell and Jessica) set me up most weeks. I mowed some lawns, fixed a few lights, and even made some exterior doors more weather-tight -- it was a great time and I met some great people. I will continue volunteering and I encourage you to also.
Recently, I was able to sit down and talk with Jennell Loeffler about what she does at FSR. For roughly two years now, Jennell has been working with volunteers to meet the needs of the community, especially the "senior independence" section. At one point she remarked, "I have a heart for the older adults, and I love working with them." So if you decide to volunteer or to utilize their services, there is a good chance you will end up speaking with Jennell.
I asked Jennell for a really great story from her time at FSR and she immediately mentioned Dominick. As a high school sophomore, Dominick reached out to Jennell and FSR for help. He had the idea of high school students giving care packages to older adults at Christmastime. He had the students ready to go, but needed the senior adult connection. Jennell set him up and away they went. That first year, Dominick and friends gave out 10 of the packages. Shortly thereafter, Jennell received a call from one recipient of the care packages, a woman who told her how touched she was. She had not felt joy at Christmas since her daughter had passed away -- 12 years earlier -- but this year was different, she felt joy! This wonderful call made Jennell cry. Dominick continued the program while in school and has since passed the torch on to his younger brother who now leads the program.
So what other programs does FSR run for older folks? Great question. Jennell told me that anyone over 60 or anyone with a disability qualifies for their programs. FSR directs the Meals on Wheels program in our county, and this wonderful service runs 7 days a week, 52 weeks per year delivering food to 80 - 100 people per day. Wow! The meals are prepared in cooperation with the kitchen at Shorewood Senior Living, just in case you were wondering. For those wanting to meet some new folks, the Senior Cafe program runs Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday each week and is a time of food and conversation.
If someone needs a helping hand, say with lawn mowing, house cleaning, home repair, shopping, or transportation, then FSR will hook that person up with a neighbor from the community who is happy to help. And if you need of someone to walk through your house to identify possible "fall risks," then FSR will be happy to send someone to visit and do a walk through with you.
For seniors wanting to sign up, you can call the FSR offices Mon-Thu 8am - 5pm, and Friday 8am - 3pm at (507) 287-2010. From there you will meet with a services coordinator and they will set you up. Be aware that you will be asked to contribute to the cost based on a sliding fee scale -- I have no idea about specifics, but they will fill you in. :-)
For volunteers wanting to help out, THANK YOU! Your next step is to visit the FSR website (https://familyservicerochester.org/) and click the VOLUNTEER button at the top right corner. Fill out the forms, wait for them to run a quick background check, and you're ready to get started! Jennell said the biggest volunteer needs right now are 1) Meals on Wheels drivers, 2) personal transportation drivers, and 3) house cleaners (the waitlist is around 100 folks needing help).
"We love younger volunteers."
One thing Jennell wanted me to know was that families were more than welcome to volunteer with FSR. She often is asked if a family can deliver meals together, for example, and she said absolutely, "We love younger volunteers." So you have plenty of options if you want to do a family volunteer time with your young ones. The only stipulation is that one person must be vetted through the FSR volunteer program.
And there you have it! A wonderful organization making a difference for seniors in our county. Thanks to Jennell for giving me time out of her busy day to share this story with you. If you need their services, please call! If you want to volunteer, please sign up on the website. Great job, FSR, Jennell, and Jessica!
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