So you are thinking about helping the homeless? It is an undertaking, and must be done with prayer and wisdom. Here's some tips to get you started and to keep you going for a while.
1. Find out: What other organizations are already helping the homeless? Look for them and find out what is already taking place in the area. Meet with them and ask them what needs to be done. If you can visit their program, talk with the homeless, and find out what they need in their area.
2. Determine what is the desire and resources of your congregation. Perhaps your congregation wants to partner with a group that is already working with the homeless. Perhaps they’d like to meet a need that isn’t already met. Pray about what the Spirit is leading your congregation to do.
3. Determine a balanced initial ministry. Homeless ministry must be balanced between efficiently meeting a need of the community and relating in love to those coming for services. Some good ministries a single congregations can do might be:
a. Serving a meal once a month or once a week
b. Opening up the church building to those in need of day shelter for five or six hours once a week
c. c. Providing sack lunches, socks, hygiene items, hand warmers, blankets, tarps or sleeping bags to organizations that serve the homeless, or taking such items out to the homeless.
d. d. Open up the church facility in the winter as an overnight shelter, especially on the worst nights
4. 4. Educate your congregation about the homeless. Ask a minister to the homeless to give a "Homeless 101" about homeless culture and ministry.
At some point you will have to address the issue of liability and church conflict. Some people in the church will be nervous about having the homeless around the facility, and some might be vocally unhappy about having the homeless around at all. Have a person who has been doing homeless ministry come in and give a “Homeless 101” about the culture and needs of the homeless. Make some fair boundaries (and make sure that everyone sticks to them) for the ministry, such as it occurs during certain times and no camping on church property (unless that’s one of the needs you are meeting). At the same time, we need to remember that all real ministry involves risk. The congregation will have to determine together what the balance of risk and boundaries they will take.
5. Once you have had some regular contact with the homeless, ask them what their needs are, no matter how small, no matter how big. It is important that our ministry to the homeless actually meet the needs of the homeless and not what we assume their needs are. As much as you are able, have the homeless participate in the ministry you are providing them. Give them volunteer opportunities, ask their opinion and give some leadership (but pick your leaders carefully).
6. Listen to the homeless who come to your church, and pray for their needs, both with them and away from them. For many of these folks you may be the only one praying for them, and God will act if we pray.
7. To meet the larger needs of the homeless, try to network with other churches in your community. Many churches are looking for an opportunity to help the homeless, and would love to participate with others. Come up with a plan and invite as many churches as possible to participate with you. Some successful ministries that local churches have networked together to do are:
a. A warehouse of food, sleeping gear, hygiene items and other items.
b. A day shelter every day of the week in different churches.
c. A winter overnight shelter, held in different churches, or in one location but the volunteers come from different churches.
d. A meal for every day of the week.
8. 8. Finally, we need to remember that all ministry is about love. We can serve and give and even sacrifice, but if we do not actually love those we are serving, then we have done nothing. Sacrifice your heart, as well as your time and finances and space.