Maple Ridge Christian Reformed Church is what you might call a typical, sub-urban church. Surrounded by busy families, with many members commuting large distances to meet, makes it a challenge to create opportunities for intentional community.
With a desire for spiritual renewal and the beginning of a new visioning process, the church realized that to move forward they would need to listen: listen to the Holy Spirit, listen to their community, and listen to the congregation. The congregation knew about the Community Opportunity Scan (COS) offered by Diaconal Ministries Canada and had tried it years ago but didn’t finish.
A COS is a process of discovery. Through conversations and interviews, churches identify the assets, skills, resources, and potential partnership opportunities available in their community. A church can discover where God is already at work in their community and find ways to join Him.
“It’s critical that leadership be on board to see the whole process through,” commented Pastor Tim Sheridan, who has done a COS twice before with other congregations and knows how valuable it is. So in May of 2018, Maple Ridge CRC decided to give it another try—this time with leadership fully on board.
A committee of congregation members met several times throughout the year to gather demographic information, provide a questionnaire for the congregation after a Sunday service, and interview 15 community members, including those from local businesses, faith groups, schools, and community agencies. Most importantly, though, the church prayed.
“Prayer is central to this process,” notes Pastor Tim. “Churches should not rush into it without a proper prayer foundation.”
With a sense of expectancy, the city was divided up and people were encouraged to pray on site, armed with a journal to write down impressions and thoughts that came to them as they prayed. They prayed through the issues in the local paper each week and organized prayer meetings and walks throughout the neighbourhood.
“One of the biggest challenges was getting over our sense of familiarity,” Pastor Tim shared. “We found that even though we had been here for 60 years, God still had surprises for us.”
One big revelation was that their local neighbourhood’s demographics had changed dramatically. No longer was their surrounding neighbourhood old and aging, but filled with young families with young children. The COS also brought to light the prevalence of youth mental health issues and isolated seniors in their community. As a result, they identified three (3) areas where the greatest needs of their city most intersected with the gifts of the church body: Family Support, Mental Health and Seniors.
One pleasant surprise was that their church was already doing things that could bless and serve their community, once a few tweaks were made. One example was opening up their Christmas Senior Dinner to the whole community, which went over really well. When the person organizing their summer bible camp had to step down, the initial discussion was that they may need to discontinue it without another leader stepping up. After doing the COS and discovering the amount of young families in their own backyard, coupled with their church’s desire to support families, they decided the camp was too important to drop and it would be worth the extra energy to keep it going.
The COS Team also met with Katie Sullivan, who is a trustee with the local school board. She mentioned a program that they run where seniors go into local elementary schools to build relationships and mentor the students by reading aloud to them – with a particular focus on immigrant children. “This was another wonderful example of discovering an asset in the community and discerning ways we can join in with what God is already up to in our community,” Pastor Tim shared.
This is what a COS is all about: asset-based community development. Instead of the church creating a new program or ministry to meet the needs of the community and its people, churches can discover assets that already exist in their community and where God may already be at work.
Throughout this journey of discovery, Maple Ridge’s COS Team found the support and resources offered by Rachel Vroege, the Western Canada Regional Ministry Developer for Diaconal Ministries Canada, helpful and necessary, particularly toward the end of the process, when their team worked through all the information gathered to find common threads or connections. (Maple Ridge COS Final Report 2019) “In the past, we’ve had churches go through the COS process without the help of Diaconal Ministries,” Vroege recalls. “For many of them, they found it to be quite frustrating and overwhelming at times. Our Regional Ministry staff can offer invaluable insight and support each step of the way to help deacons and churches see the entire process through.”
“When I think about ministry, I want our local context to shape what we do. The COS gives a hands on way to work that out.” Pastor Tim Sheridan
There is now a team working alongside Maple Ridge’s Council, discerning next steps and they are already finding ways to be more intentional about the three areas they identified and exploring ways to incorporate them into existing ministries.
“When I think about ministry, I want our local context to shape what we do,” shares Pastor Tim. “The COS gives a hands on way to work that out. I think every church should do one.”
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Would this be the right time for your church to do a Community Opportunity Scan? Has your church started the COS journey but lost some steam?
A Community Opportunity Scan is a process provided by Diaconal Ministries Canada, a partner agency of the Christian Reformed Church of North America. It is designed to walk churches through a process of discernment to discover where God is at work in their community and how a church can best participate in that work. For more information on the COS and/or to find out if your church is ready to embark on this journey, click here or contact us at [email protected] or 1-800-730-3490 x4304. We're here to help!