We have been thinking about 50 ways to connect our church with community. These posts are inspired by the work of Robert Crossman, Ann A. Michel, Kim Mitchel, and Lovett H. Weems, Jr., as found in the article https://www.churchleadership.com/50-ways/50-ways-to-take-church-to-the-community/from the Lewis Centre for Christian Leadership. For more information on what we have been discussing please refer to my previous posts.
Last week we considered what it might look like to “Prepare Spiritually” for this work. Today, I want to unpack what it means to “Get to know the community surrounding our church”. The steps recommended in the article appear in blue and my comments appear under each:
GET TO KNOW THE COMMUNITY SURROUNDING YOUR CHURCH
Step 10. Review demographic data from public, private, and denominational sources, but don’t assume that statistics alone will tell the whole story.
The most recent Joints Needs Assessment Report is a great place to start gathering this information about the community surrounding your church. This work has usually been gathered by folks so that information can be available to potential ministry personel that may be seeking a call. But, like this step suggest, don’t assume that is all the information. It is also really helpful to talk to people in the neighbourhood, which leads us to the next step…
Step 11. Get out in your neighborhood. Walk the streets. Map the area and record your observations. Note how the community is changing.
This would be a terrific exercise to do by a number of different groups in the church. In the United Church we are not door-knockers, but just because we aren’t going door-to-door doesn’t mean we shouldn’t walk around our community and say hello to our neighbours at business and parks etc. I challenge groups within the church to take an evening and go for a walk and/or a drive around while considering the question, “who is our neighbour?” I wonder what you would come up with. The beginning of a plan to connect with the community is actually knowing who they are!
Step 12. Assess community needs and assets. What are the needs of your context? Who are your neighbors, and how can you serve them?
This could be the next step in a comprehensive plan and it involves inviting community groups, neighbours, school reps, etc., into conversation with you. Assessing the community’s needs without their input in the conversation is not only ineffective, it is at the root of colonialism. If the church determines what a community needs without ever talking to the members of that community then they aren’t interested in real relationships with the community, they are interested in authority over it. We must be committed to doing the work of being in relationship. That means changing the approach from, “this is how we are going to help you,” to “how can we help you?” It is a subtle, but profound difference.
Step 13. Be attuned to where God is already at work in your community.
This might be the last step about learning about your community and it is so important. Just because your church is not involved in the community doesn’t mean God isn’t already working in it. God may not have been able to wait for the church to move into action and found other ways and other people to do God’s work. This is the work now – to look for individuals and groups in our community that could use our support and wider connections and resources to make their work of serving the community possible. What would it look like if we looked for ways we could help others rather than looking for others to help us?
Stay tuned for next week’s post where we will discuss what it means to “Listen and Learn”… Until then, act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly (Micah 6:8)
Offered in the Peace and Love of Christ,
Minister of Spiritual Care