Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Andrew Kukla is curating a series on officer training. We’ll hear from various perspectives about how churches might best equip those they call to the ministry of ruling elder for that service. How might we feed, encourage, and enable the imagination of our church officers? How can we balance the role of officers as discerners of the Spirit alongside church polity? How might we all learn how to fail — and learn from it? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!
by Lee Nave, Jr.
By design, churches serve to enhance the communities they reside within.
During some of the most challenging times in recent human history, church leaders have worked within communities as leaders. These challenges, in some cases, were large in scope (civil rights movement), with implications on how certain populations within the community were treated.
Not every church can march on Washington but every church leader can support their community on Main Street. Church leaders are not just leaders of their church community but also the larger community that they reside in.
When I was eight, I had my first job cutting grass with my grandparents for members of our church one summer. My grandparents and I would drive around all day that summer, cutting the lawns for older church members who didn’t have anyone to do it for them for various reasons.
In order to increase our outreach, we worked our pastor to outline members of the congregation who may need assistance. Our pastor would give my grandparents a list with contact information of those in need. This list began to expand to include community members that were not a part of the church community.
This grassroots kind of community service, though small in scope, can play a massive role in how churches engage the community they serve. Using resources from church members, such in this case landscaping, can assist the lives of one of the churches’ most vulnerable communities.
1. Know your limitations/capacity/community as a church leader.
Churches, however, can’t be in charge of solving every issue that impacts the community. There is only so much a church can do considering their limited capacity (funding, time, volunteers, etc). And a second point is that churches can’t create a platform or action plan without community input.
A common disadvantage of international development is that organizations enter communities without assessing community wants and needs before starting a program. Therefore, churches have to assess directly from the community to discover what needs are and work with the community to create an action plan.
2. Capture the voices of community members.
Now, as a professional in the nonprofit space 20 years later, one of the most valuable methods of collecting community input I’ve seen and done myself is through focus groups. These small group conversations can be tailored around specific topics or just general community outreach.
Focus groups could be conducted in spaces that church members feel most comfortable in. However, there also needs to be spaces for those not as comfortable with church environments to still participate in such discussions. Recreation centers and other spaces could serve for those audiences. Especially when dealing with young people who may not feel as comfortable using their voice in this particular space.
3. Put actions into… well… action!
The action plan itself would be based off of the feedback gathered. For the focus groups to be successful and useful, they need to go beyond just the harms and problems within the community but also contain recommendations and actions a church could take.
For example, if forty community members need assistance with landscaping, there needs to be a plan on how those services will be rendered. It could involve asking a local landscaping company for discounted rates or a few motivated teenagers could be asked to deliver services like I did with my grandparents 20 years ago.
One of the most troubling results of having community discussions such as focus groups, is when participants feel like nothing has come from it. As much as possible, try to inform participants of all actions taken as well as engage them in the process.
As you continue to grow as a church leader, remember that the voices of the people you break bread with should all be valued and understood fully. Your work isn’t just to lead the church but to be a community organizer who harnesses the voices of community, to defeat all challenges.
Lee Nave Jr. is the Community Engagement Coordinator at Citizens for Juvenile Justice. He has over a decade of experience working with communities all over the country in the nonprofit space. He currently resides in Boston, MA.