Community Engagement Fuels Small Church Revitalization

Community Engagement Fuels Small Church Revitalization


Greenwich food pantry finds new temporary home for its 'vital work' during  COVID-19

For nearly 200 years, North Greenwich Congregational Church has enjoyed a long and colorful history meeting the spiritual needs of its members and friends, while maintaining a strong commitment to community service and outreach, both locally and globally. One month before the COVID pandemic hit, the church called a new pastor, the Reverend Karen Halac, who brought fresh ideas to create alternative opportunities for worship, learning, fellowship and service. In this, the first of a series of short articles, Karen shares how some of these innovative initiatives have engaged many seekers and ‘de-churched’ in their community.

The “Sign Church”
Since the beginning of the pandemic, I have been attending webinars and conferences, reading more articles than ever, and taking online courses about the future of the church, best practices, etc. The key take-aways for serving a small church are unflinching commitments to: deeper connections within the congregation and an ultra-local focus for our ministries and outreach. I ask the congregation, “If the next hurricane or flood wipes this church off of the map, who would notice? Who would care? What difference would it make – to you, to our neighbors, to our outreach partners, to the kingdom of God?
One example of engaging our community is our ‘sign ministry’ on the highly trafficked Riversville Road, with messages of inspiration and reflection changed weekly. Our church is located opposite the Audubon Center, and many nature enthusiasts, walkers, and bikers pass by our church hourly, in addition to the high volume of vehicle traffic that stops at the four-way intersection where the sign is located.
All messages are chosen based on local and national events of importance to our neighbors. For example:

Event: Related quotes by:
The Greenwich BackCountry Jazz fundraiser to benefit Bridgeport youth music scholarships?
Supreme Court nominations?
Education, curriculum, and school board controversies?
Climate change conference?
Our church memorial service for a NYT reporter?
Voting Day?
Black Lives Matter discussions?
Violence in response to injustice?
Political leadership crisis?
Conflict – military, interpersonal, community?
-John Coltrane & Duke Ellington
-Sandra Day O’Connor
-Jonathon Kozol
-George Washington Carver
-Christiane Amanpour
-Susan B. Anthony & Abraham Lincoln
-Martin Luther King Jr.
-Benjamin Franklin
-I Timothy 2:1-2
-Romans 14:19

Increasingly, people stop at our church to photograph the sign, to take ‘selfies’ with their favorites, post messages to social media, and to ask our administrator Michelle Peluso “what will be next? And when?” Locals are beginning to call NGCC ‘the sign church.’ These inspirational messages have boosted our followers on Instagram, and have brought attention to other aspects of church life – community concerts, our organic garden, our partnership with the food bank and more:
Next month I will tell you how – improbably - our cemetery brought new life to our church and neighborhood!

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