Signs of Community Transformation

This week I spent two full days with 8 seminary students (and one faculty member). We did some site learning and I introduced them to some basic elements of Asset Based Community Development. We visited four communities where churches are engaging with their communities in the transformation of their neighborhoods.

In one exercise, I asked them to list all of the activities and ministries that they and their congregations were engaged in related to mercy and justice. With only a few exceptions all of their reported activities were focused on individual betterment and individual development. None of them had prior experience or mental maps that suggested a pathway to community transformation. This is true of most north American Christian audiences.

Moving Christians and congregations in their thinking from individual betterment (which is good) to community transformation (which is more impactful) is very challenging. I have been thinking through this week, How can one tell if a church is engaging in Community Transformation? What are some indicators of progress?

Many churches have language, liturgy, leadership, programs and practices for Ministry of the Word and sacraments. What would the language, liturgy, leadership, programs and practices be for a church that was equally focused on community transformation?

Here are some initial thoughts: What do you think?

A. Congregational Readiness:

  1. Does the congregation have a target neighborhood? Yes or No. What is the specific neighborhood that the congregation has committed to? How can a church leave a redemptive (and sustainable) imprint in a community, if it does not have a declared neighborhood as its focus for transformation?
  2. Does the congregation have a community transformation leader (or team)? Yes or No? Who is teaching and guiding the congregation in its community transformation engagements? The work will not be sustainable without a leader or team who leads/guides the transformation story over time.

B. Community Transformation Process

1. Is there a systematic (and ongoing) listening process with the community that results in:

  • Discovering and cataloging neighbors (and members) gifts; Is the gift information transparent, accessible and shared with the community for the common good?
  • Discovering what residents care about, enough to work on it with support from the congregation.

2. Is there an agenda for change that is shared with the community that arises from the listening process? Is the agenda co-owned by church and community?

3. Are there community action groups (with congregants and neighbors) forming around the agenda items and working on the things they care about?

4. Is there a shared venue(s) for reporting back to congregation and neighbors the progress being made on their agenda?

5. Is there evidence of cooperation with other congregations, associations and institutions in the community in accomplishing the agenda?

6. Is there evidence of Church(es) raising the voice of the poor to change the systems that perpetuate poverty?

C. Sign Posts of Progress:

  • There is movement from “ministry to/for” those people to “ministry with” our neighbors
  • There is movement from “inward” to “outward” focus in ministry
  • There is movement from “simple responsiveness” to “more complex” (w)holistic engagements that address root causes.
  • There is movement from “mono cultural” to “multi-cultural” engagement
  • There is movement from economic homogeneity to economic heterogeneity
  • There is movement from “commuter-based” ministry to “geographic-based” ministry.
  • There is movement from “church-centric” to Kingdom-centric language and frameworks.
  • There is movement from focusing on “problems” to “future/vision” oriented focus
  • There is movement from understanding stewardship of “our gifts” to stewarding of the “community gifts”.
  • There is a “relocation” strategy for changing the residential mix in poor communities (a healthy mix of low, middle and upper-income residents).

Jay Van Groningen
Communities First Association

Teens in Action


Pictured above are Ivan, Jose, Rosalba, Barbara, Jim and Mario

One of the goals of community development is to secure the future of the community. This desire has been reflected in the association between Teens in Action, Gangs for Jesus, Sunshine Community Church and Valley Ridge Community Church. As this association has become more mature, this cooperation is developing a joint venture to tend to the health of the local youth. We look forward to this joint cooperation and the benefits that it will bring to the community as it becomes involved in the community development process.


Montana Vista Story of Transformation

Often times we look at short term impacts when dealing with community development. However, the best indicator of transformation is in the long term. Several years ago, when community development started, it was the parents who were first touched by ESL classes. Since then, these parents have taught their children to succeed.

It must be noted that these children had also been influenced by former Americorps interns Maria del Rosario Arreola, Mayela Lucero and David Gonzalez.  At the present time, Genesis, Griselda and Ivonne are now attending college with a vision of helping impulse the community of Montana Vista toward progress. Ivonne, in particular, is working and studying to become a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, and has the desire to stay within the community of Montana Vista.

In addition to this, several former students, like Claudia, have secured and kept their jobs for at least three years.

Valley Ridge Story of Transformation

Over the last few months much has changed and matured at Valley Ridge. For instance, all the students who took the citizenship class at Valley Ridge Community Church have passed the exam and will be sworn in as US citizens between the end of January and February of 2011.

In addition to this, Alejandro, a former ESL student at Valley Ridge, has passed his GED, has secured a full time job, and is now volunteering time on the weekends to tutor in Math. Hilda and her Sister Blanca are now volunteering their time to help the Ronald McDonald house here in El Paso.

In reference to the political process, the community has come together and succeeded in getting a public vote to remove the Mayor of Socorro and one council member. The vote will take place at the end of January, and a special election will most likely take place by May to elect a new Mayor and council member.

“Hands Around the Plain” Opens

Our new store is now open! “Hands Around the Plain” is located beside “The Fruited Plain” on highway 75 in Sioux Center. This unique gift shop is an exciting opportunity for the women of The Bridge to gain employment and to build a good job history. And, equally exciting: all proceed from the store will go back into the ministry of The Bridge.

Hand Around the Plain will carry a variety of items including: jewelry, jams and jellies, oils, soaps and lotions, purses, cards, baby gifts, pet collars and leashes, used books wine glasses and racks, rugs and art on consignment from local artists.

Along with these made-in-the-Midwest products, HATP will carry Fair-Trade products made in Chile by struggling artisans. HATP will also carry a line of jewelry made by impoverished women in Nepal who have developed a business to help other women in similar situations. HATP hopes to develop several relationships with other international ministries in the future.

Another exciting thing happening at Hand Around the Plain, is a product line called “Beyond the Bridge.” These are products that are either made by the women of The Bridge or by friends of The Bridge. These products include: candles, grocery totes and bags, table scarves, goat soap, pottery, photography, quilts, baby blankets and scarves. We hope to expand this line as the store grows. The “Beyond the Bridge” line is exciting because the items are donated, so 100% of the retail price goes back into the ministry of The Bridge!

Nearly all of the remodeling of our building was done by volunteers from the community. We saved an incredible amount of money because of the help of others. Thank you!

Stop in and see us in Sioux Center on highway 75 across from Coop Gas and Oil. We’re excited to have you visit!

What You Can Do

  • Donate your books! Give your ‘very good’ used best sellers or classic books to HATP. All proceeds from their sales at HATP go back into the ministry of The Bridge!
  • Donate items that you’ve created, such as quilts, blankets, pottery, art or woodworking to HATP.
  • Volunteer to work at HATP a few hours each month (email or call 712.441.2528)
  • Join our Facebook page
  • Shop at HATP!!

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