Walking to church for shoes: The jobs-to-be-done model for mission innovation

00 Guest columnistMission begins at the church’s front door. Any elder or deacon can tell you that. But how do you reach the people that aren’t interested in darkening the doorstep? Those who don’t think church is worth the walk? And those lacking the shoes in which to make the walk?

Newark’s Emanuel First Hispanic Presbyterian Church leaders decided to find out.

For several years, they promoted their Everybody Is Welcome campaign. The spirit of hospitality, abundance, and generosity grew within the congregation through Bible study and worship. Over the years, they improved their methods.

But pursuing the goal of “getting people into church,” seemed misdirected, if not too small a vision. They began to ask themselves, “What jobs do our neighbors need to get done in their lives?” The church was ready for a change. They were ready to stop looking at empty pews and start looking out their windows. So they traded the “people-to-be-drawn” ministry model for a “jobs-to-be-done” (JTBD) model for mission innovation.

The church’s earlier focus had left many parishioners experiencing low ministry satisfaction and low energy, with disappointing results. As they shifted from invitations to church to inquiries to find out what neighbors needed from the church, their ministry satisfaction and energy increased. Week by week, they shared stories and improved their community intelligence.

To their surprise, the most frequently expressed JTBD discovery entailed shoes. Kids needed shoes for school and play. Parents needed shoes for work.

So the church set up a “shoe depot.” The Walk To Church For Shoes project offered shoes in good condition for free. People met around the tables sharing shoes. Kids played. Members served snacks. Elders offered prayers. Strangers and new immigrants, young and old, acquired new shoes. Soon, members discovered other community needs. Immediate and longer-range jobs were tackled. New people participated in new ways. A community was blessed! And church-life kicked into a higher gear.

In the process, the folks at Emmanuel Church learned how to ask better questions. Two particular questions rose to the top of their list.

1. What do you help others get done in their lives? The spiritual needs for which teaching pastors train in seminary are critical, but they’re often not felt by those most needy. The felt needs of unchurched folks often are more basic. Some that would like to come to church stay away because they’re embarrassed that they lack the finest Sunday dress they expect to find others wearing. The first JTBD missional opportunity is to find out – and deliver – what’s important to the community.

2. What outcomes do you expect? What unique, compelling mission has God sent your congregation to achieve in the world? Cultivating missional disciplines allows your congregation to focus on a few, clear ministry outcomes.

The jobs-to-be-done model for mission innovation is not about growing the church. JTBD is about the church growing the community at large by discovering, delivering and resourcing the jobs the community needs to get done.

Applying the JTBD model for mission innovation at Emanuel Church started with shoes. What would you start with if you applied the JTBD mission model for innovation in your context?

If acquiring a good pair of shoes is on your to-do list, stop by Emanuel Presbyterian in Newark, New Jersey. It’s definitely worth the walk.

 Kevin Yoho



KEVIN YOHO is General Presbyter for Newark Presbytery.

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