Recently, I did a Google search for “bridge to nowhere” and got over 65 million hits. Looking at the pictures, I saw bridges deep in jungles or wilderness areas that were not connected to any roads. There were bridge building projects that were abandoned in the middle of construction; and there was the famous Choluteca Bridge in Honduras, where the river shifted its course after flooding and the bridge now stands over dry ground completely on its own. It leaves you with the question of why people would spend so much time and effort to build something that would eventually be of no benefit.
In one sense we can think of the church as a bridge and ourselves as the builders. Our goal is to connect the people in our local communities with our gracious and loving God. On the one side are people who go about their daily lives, oblivious to who God is; on the other is the kingdom of God where there is life-giving fellowship with God. In the middle stands the church. Our challenge is that many of the people in our communities do not even realise we exist; and even those that do, often view us as out of touch and irrelevant. For them, we are like a bridge to nowhere.
What can we do about this? Community-based ministries are perfectly placed to provide our churches with the connecting links to ensure that we are relevant bridges. In our church news, we have seen reports of a variety of projects that connect with the local community, such as language learning classes, thrift shops, exercise classes for the elderly, and extracurricular support for children. COVID-19 has especially given us the opportunity to get involved in local schemes for delivering food and clothing packages. During the Christmas season, there are even more opportunities to reach out to struggling families and the homeless.
These community ministries are vital because they help keep our fingers on the pulse of our local communities. As we talk with our neighbours, we discover where needs are emerging, and as we help to fill those needs, we become more relevant in the eyes of the community. All too often people have been unable to hear the message we have because they are focusing on their own pressing needs. Offering the help that they are looking for, brings us into our neighbours’ sights as willingly supportive friends who can be trusted to help people overcome some of life’s hurdles.
Another great benefit of community-based projects is that they help connect our churches to some of the resources that already exist in our communities. Locally elected staff, supermarket chains, other charities and many businesses are also looking for projects to support and partner with. We do not need to reinvent the wheel. Partnering with others can allow us to access resources, such as volunteers, finances, and facilities. These will allow us to have an even greater impact for God than if we were to attempt something independently.
Looking at the Christian landscape in Europe, almost all churches that are growing have a strong social profile, impacting the needs of their local community. Adventists can be proud of ADRA and its huge impact in the world. Similarly, our local churches can make a significant difference in the communities where they are situated, so when people think of us, they will not associate us with a bridge to nowhere, but rather will think of us as a vital link to the source of abundant life that Jesus mentions in John 10:10 — “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”