Sunday, July 23, 2006

Communities First -- Jay Van Groningen

Communities First is an excellent introduction to Christian-based community development -- locally and globally. The book is not just a theological treatise -- though it deals with some theology -- but mostly a very practical, hands-on guide to getting started in seeing your community transformed by the grace of God.

One of the key issues the author raises is this. Does your church want to do ministry to your community, or do you want to do ministry with your community? Ministry to your community will result in primarily relief ministries -- and little individual or community transformation. Ministry with your community will focus on community transformation. The former is much easier than the latter.

Doing community transformation with a community, at a minimum requires:
  • Developing and sharing vision WITH the people in your community -- even the ones who don't go to or like your church.
  • Becoming PART of the community. Your church members need to live intentionally in the community you want to reach. Your church needs to function as a genuine part of the neighborhood -- not just as the owner of land and buildings that happen to be located in the neighborhood. The people in the community need to have a sense that you are part of them -- they need to have a sense of "community" with your church.
  • Sharing ownership with the neighborhood of the projects and ministries you are involved in. If there is no ownership -- there will be no permanent change.
The implications of just these 3 points for the average local church are huge and revolutionary. It seems to me that the great majority of churches minister TO communities, not WITH. We know what the community needs better than the people who live there -- or at least that is how we often act. We really don't like sharing power -- especially if we are a large, successful church.

Perhaps this is why even though hundreds of churches are planted across the USA every year, we really see little genuine community transformation. Most churches have a vision for individual transformation, not community transformation -- and those churches that do want to see their communities transformed are ministering TO -- not WITH.

If you have influence in your church, and you have a heart for community transformation, I HIGHLY recommend this book.


SocietyVs said...

"Sharing ownership with the neighborhood of the projects and ministries you are involved in. If there is no ownership -- there will be no permanent change"

I wrote a blog on this idea once, although I never read the book you talk about or have even heard of it until now.

I think getting community involvement is absolutely key to making a good ministry work. Being one with the people is important and letting the people know 'we got your back'. Without their input you can never tell if what you propose to do is a good solution to problems in the neighborhood.

I trumped that attitude a while back. I started something called the 'Action Group' and basically we sit around and visit but also raise funds to help people that need some basic help. I let people speak freely and we answer needs when they come to us...we just sit around and think 'what is the best solution and what exactly are we being asked?'. Get the wheels spinning and then we move into action mode to help the person. This way no one can say 'those Christians' because we go out of our faith in God, not to minister to someone. In the end, we find that people are saying less bad things about Christians, at least I hope so.

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