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When church doors were closed this spring and the reality of COVID-19 set in, churches all across Minnesota met the challenge head-on. A quick scroll through our social media feed showed not only the creative ways congregations gathered virtually, but also how they took ministry beyond the four walls of the church.

One of those churches was Emmanuel Christian Center in Spring Lake Park, MN. Under the leadership of Pastors Nate and Jodi Ruch, the church has been intentionally building partnerships with community leaders over the past few years.

With the help of Tim Sanders, Emmanuel’s Director of Community Partnerships, they developed a playbook on serving the community. Tim describes the church’s vision saying, “We believe Jesus establishes His church in the middle of culture. We’re placed in cities by the Lord to be salt and light. The community should be better off because the church is in it.”

Their strategy begins with connecting with leaders in each of the four sectors of community: government, faith community, business, and non-profit organizations, and asking them, “What is your biggest need and how can we help?”

At first, some in the community didn’t know how to respond. Many acknowledged they had never been asked that kind of question. But soon local leaders began presenting needs, and the church consistently responded to meet those needs. It’s a long-term investment focused on community partnerships that positioned the church to mobilize at a moment’s notice in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.

During the first part of March, Emmanuel hosted a drive-through toilet paper giveaway for over 400 families. The following week Emmanuel became one of the first drop-off locations for relief supplies from Convoy of Hope. Over 800 cars were filled with care boxes (pictured on the front cover).

Having already established a partnership with school administrators prior to 2020, Emmanuel was asked if two local schools could set up buses in the church parking lot to hand out school lunches to families in need this spring. Even now, schools are already connecting with the church to meet needs for the fall.

And when the unrest in Minneapolis left grocery stores burned to the ground and many south Minneapolis residents had no access to necessities, Emmanuel partnered with Pastor Darrell Geddes and Christ Church International. Volunteers initially brought two trailers full of food and supplies to hand out (pictured above). Mission teams whose trips were cancelled because of COVID-19 were redirected to Minneapolis, and it was the start of an ongoing partnership that continued throughout the summer.

It’s more than celebrating numbers. At the end of the day, Tim asks, “Was the relationship deepened and would they partner with us again?” The ultimate hope, as found in Matthew 5:16, is that the community “may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

Emmanuel is currently developing an electronic version of their community partnership playbook to share with other churches. We hope to pass it along when it becomes available.