Best Practices: Church as a Gift for Neighborhood Transformation
January 20, 2012 2 Comments
Jay Van Groningen, CFA Executive Director
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. CFA 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. “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.