In our research, we have identified different ways of involving the community, in increasing levels of effectiveness:
1. Church working for the community. Least effective is when the church does the work itself, leads
the process and makes decisions on what work the church will do in the community. Community 3 members are there as beneficiaries only but, have no involvement as decision makers nor do they sit on the committee. They are passive recipients.
2. Church working with the community. The next level of effectiveness is where the church works closely with the community to affect change. The church begins as a facilitator and mobilizer of the community. Together, the church and community members form a committee and work to bring change in their community. The work is still done by the church and sits under the church leadership, but community members sit on the committee with church members, and together, they decide how to move forward.
3. Church working as a catalyst in the community. Ultimately, the most effective is when the church is envisioned to get involved in their community. They mobilize and envision their community to get involved in transformation in their community. The role of the church is not as implementer; however, the church still plays a key role as catalyst and can also be involved in the work of the community. The church, therefore, plays a prophetic role in speaking into their community and getting people to transform their community, even as they release the work out to the community to do. The church’s primary role is as a catalyst, with members from the church involved as community members in the work.
Our research from Kenya has indicated that the more the community is involved, the greater the impact on the people targeted; the wider community and the church grow both numerically, developmentally, and spiritually. This is because when the church reaches out and walks in real relationships with others, people come to know the living, life-giving God. Also, as church members connect with more non-believers, their faith is also strengthened and challenged.
For UTN and its’ local partners, this process starts by gathering both church and community leadership together to understand the following:
1. In the current situation, what is the community struggling with and what needs to change? For example:
• What could we do about food insecurity?
• What could we do to assist widows and orphans?
• How could we strengthen families?
• How could we promote safe drinking water, adequate housing and food, health services, garbage and sewer systems, and decent roads?
• What could be done about the education of children and adults?
• What could we do about alcoholism, drug abuse, gambling and other addictions?
• What we do about spousal and child abuse?
• What could we do to improve relationships between people? From the discussion, what is the issue needing to be addressed first?
2. Identify what resources are available in the community to resolve this issue. Make a list of available resources. Include the identity of the person or entity that is the steward of the resource.
3. Distinguish truth from lies in ownership of resources. An example would be the lie that the community is lacking or doesn’t have the ability—we all have unique talents, skills, and ability. Using all God has given the community, transformation can come to community. Discuss what other lies are prominent in the community. It is critical to start to recognize all that God has given both the church and the community. So often we listen to the lies and believe we don’t have anything. We compare ourselves with others and are only able to see what we don’t have. Now we must look again to see all God has given us.
4. Form a work group from the church and the community. Develop regulations and a structure to guide this. Avoid people with personal interests; find people with the right heart and passion, people of peace in the community.
5. Involve the community in sustaining the work. Involve them from the beginning. Build relationships with community people. This can be done by visiting homes, having an open house in the church or sharing a meal together.
6. Listen to and appreciate the views of the community.
7. Involve the government. This is important so that when any difficulties arise, and they will—the government knows the work, and there is a relationship built already.
8. Don’t compromise your ethics, integrity, or your witness. It is perfectly acceptable to have criteria for personal behavior of the work group members.
9. Implement the project in the community.
10. Since God brings growth when we sow seeds, even small seeds, explain that we’ll use a new name for small-scale projects: ‘Seed Projects’.
Definition of Seed Projects: They are very small-scale projects that are carried out by the local church and that demonstrate God’s love to the people in the community and possibly to other churches that have not yet caught the vision. They are for the community and can be completed in a relatively short period of time. It is important to emphasize they must be short-term projects that benefit others and not the church.
Some Seed Project examples: a church-based community garden, community clean-up, cleaning a local water source, building a local house for a vulnerable family, organizing a feeding program for the most vulnerable in the community, conducting a one-day feeding event, planning and an awareness campaign (for example—good hygiene, proper sanitation, etc.).