In Asset Based Community Development, we talk a lot about church as asset for positive community change. In what ways can church be gift to neighborhood transformation? I wonder what you would add to this list?
- Some church members bring hope to the neighborhood transformation process — they know that God reigns and that we live under His promise of a Kingdom come and coming. They live and work from a certainty that the earth is the Lord’s and that He has not abandoned His world. They have a calling to co-reign with God in making all things new (Col 1:17). They bring optimism and hope for a brighter future.
- Church members bring a spiritual and moral compass to neighborhood life. What are the acceptable and prevailing norms for our community life? Christians bring a framework for Biblical living to those who care to learn.
- Church members bring prophetic imagination — the Holy Spirit visits Christian neighbors with dreams of what can be. They imagine beauty and a restored environment, they imagine laughter and play in places now dark.
- Churches have buildings, grounds, offices, classrooms, meetings rooms, office equipment, supplies and more. Imagine church as a community center. A willing church can be a center for neighborhood activity and connecting.
- Churches have funds for benevolence and community enhancements.
- Churches have staff (outreach and deacons) who allocate time to community development coordination and leadership.
- Churches have people with talents and expertise to share with their neighbors.
Over the years, I have noticed that most Christians who get serious about Community Development — serious enough to work at it — try to start the work of neighborhood transformation from a church platform. They hope and expect that a congregation will engage in God’s redemption story in the neighborhood as a lead agent for positive change. They expect that the church will care enough about their neighbors and neighborhood to want to be a lead “player” in the neighborhood redemption story. They are soon disappointed with Church as agent for neighborhood transformation. Those who have launched neighborhood transformation from a church platform (be it new church or established church) feel isolated, alone, under-resourced, and disillusioned with church participation. While church is loaded with gifts for neighborhood transformation, their focus and energies seem directed to “healthy church” issues, not “healthy community” issues.
Church can be a good neighbor bringing gifts/contributions to the neighborhood transformation story. It can be great neighbor — taking responsibility for the neighborhood transformation story. Communities First Association has learned that a best practices approach is to lead neighborhood transformation from outside the church (a non profit) and to call on the church to bring their gifts (as much as they are willing) in the same way any other institution is invited to bring their gifts to the neighborhood transformation process.
Ironically “healthy church” and “healthy community” is not a problem to be solved. It is a polarity to be managed. A community is healthier when church gifts are a shaping force; a Church is healthier when as servant/witness it stretches itself in giving gifts for the redemption of the neighborhood it occupies.