Earlier this year First Baptist Church of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., collected 700 pairs of shoes for a local homeless shelter. People came forward and placed their shoes on the altar, with many going home in socks or bare feet.
What an incredible outpouring of generosity from a church working to make a difference in their community. High fives all around.
It’s great to hear stories like this, but sometimes you start to ask questions:
- That’s a lot of shoes. I wonder if the homeless shelter was equipped to handle the storage and distribution of that many shoes?
- How would you distribute that many shoes?
- Did they have the right sizes?
- What kind of shoes do you buy for a homeless person? Sturdy, comfortable walking shoes for being on your feet all day, or dress shoes to complete an interview outfit?
- Are shoes really what the shelter needed most? What if instead of shoes, those 700 people donated $20 each. $14,000 could go a long way. Or what if all 700 people volunteered? What does that shelter really need?
I’m not asking these questions to discredit this church or their pastor in any way. They’re simply an example to help us think through this issue. Seeing churches take bold steps like this is exactly what we need to work toward changing the world, but we can’t stop there. A willingness to take action is only the first phase. Just because a church is doing something doesn’t mean it’s always the right something. The next phase requires a refinement of actions, making the most of the efforts. That’s true in marketing and it’s just as true with outreach efforts. One of the first steps to effective action is asking the right questions.
Focusing on the People We Help
We need to make sure our help is actually helpful. It’s something we’re not very good at asking. We’re quick to give a high five and support the cause, but only later do we ask the questions. It’s not just the church either—people are now questioning the effectiveness of causes from the pink ribbons for breast cancer to Tom’s Shoes.
Often the marketing of a cause campaign puts more emphasis on our giving than those receiving. Sometimes efficiency is sacrificed for the sake of greater effectiveness. By focusing on engaging people in a personal way, you can get more people to give. That’s kind of how short-term missions work. Sending a small team to a remote location for a few weeks isn’t a very efficient way to serve, but it can become effective as that small group is mobilized to support the cause.
But the overriding factor in all these efforts needs to be the person receiving our help. We need to care more about serving them than how it feels for us to give.
How to Help
Here are some things your church can do to ensure their “help” is really going to serve those in need in the best way possible:
- Ask questions. Lots of questions. The best need your church can meet is the most important one, not the need that has the cleverest slogan. Whether it is an organization or individual, find out what is needed most—even if it is not sexy—and work toward fulfilling that need.
- Walk a mile in their shoes. How would you like to be helped? How would you help a close friend or family member? Are you helping in a way that preserves their dignity and respect?
- Actions speak louder than words. At the end of the day, actions speak louder than words. What does your church’s action communicate? It isn’t always about reaching the goal, it’s about how you reach it.
Helping During the Holidays
This is especially important as we enter the holiday volunteer season. Many of you may be spending time at shelters and soup kitchens. Take a moment and visit InvisiblePeople.tv and watch how Mark Horvath interacts with the homeless among us. He gets to know them as people. It’s because Mark knows what it’s like to be homeless that he passes out socks, something many homeless people truly need.
The most powerful way to communicate our love for the world is through our actions. The websites, promotional posters and slogans are great, but it’s how we love our neighbor that makes the lasting impression. Let’s make sure our helpfulness fits the need in the best way possible and try to remember what it might be like to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.