Respond to Actual Needs
If you respond to actual needs, you will make a difference in people's lives and win their loyalty. On the other hand, if you ask members to fit their needs into existing offerings, or expect them to stifle their needs as the price of belonging, you will serve them poorly and discourage loyalty.
Personal needs require personal response
Of all institutions, the church has both the opening and the obligation to make a personal response to people's needs. People endure anonymous and mechanical responses from other institutions. They expect more from a faith community.
With some exceptions, most church members will grant their church access to their lives. They will respond to personal visits, telephone calls, e-mail and letters. In a need situation, they probably won't respond to a broadside invitation, such as, "If anyone needs a personal visit, call the church office."
"Personal" can mean an e-mail or phone call, as well as a face-to-face encounter.
Ministers (lay and clergy) need to tailor their response to the need, not to their personal preferences and availability.
A grief situation, for example, requires a personal visit. A job promotion can be handled with a personal e-mail or letter. A job loss, by contrast, requires a call or visit. Better to err on the side of doing too much than too little.
People need to be "sold"
They aren't looking for one more activity to fill their schedules, or one more list to send them canned appeals, not even well-intended appeals like "call us if you have a need" or "come to church for a support group." People need to be approached personally, by name, with a sense that their participation matters and is somehow tied in with a recognition of who they are.
By making a personal contact, you can learn right away whether your assessment of needs is accurate. This is better than investing resources in a "good idea" that has no grounding in actual needs.
Being on a prayer list isn't a substitute for a pastoral call.
Clergy need to develop the habit of making pastoral calls other than hospital emergencies. Personal calls build goodwill, establish one's ministry, learn members' stories, needs and interests, and strengthen their affiliation with the congregation.
Pastoral calls are time-consuming and difficult to schedule, but unless clergy know their people, how can they serve them? When a person has needs, personal attention from a pastor will make far more difference than being mentioned on the prayer list or receiving a pretty card.
Clergy need to be the primary pastoral caller, but they can ask trained laity to assist.
Informal care-giving networks also exist within a congregation, and they make an enormous difference. Small group ministries are especially important. Also important are teams of intentional care-givers, such as Stephen Ministers.
Clergy should plan on making a personal visit with every parish family once a year. They should respond to emergencies as they arise and plan on visiting hospitalized patients at least once a week. Lay callers should visit the hospitalized more frequently (being guided by medical circumstances) and shut-ins (homebound and retirement centers) at least once a month.
This is a lot of calling, but it will make a difference in people's lives and cement their loyalty to the congregation.
Callers need to be flexible about where and when a call is made. Few people below retirement age are at home during the day. Lunch near a member's job can be a good approach. So can breakfast, mid-morning coffee, after-work at a watering hole, or Saturday lunch after a child's soccer game. The point is to show interest in people's lives.
Design programs that fit perceived needs.
Programs should show transparency: you spoke, we listened; or you had a need, we responded. Change offerings regularly, stay fresh, avoid programs that people "stop seeing." Programs should seek to help people, not to promote the church as institution. Fewer fund-raisers, fewer church-planning sessions, and more mission groups, pastoral groups, study groups. Offer one-time events (such as a seminar on prayer) to gauge interest and to identify follow-on opportunities.