Connecting with Your Community — Part 2 (Practical Principles)

In October, I had the opportunity to do a break out session at The Sticks Conference. The topic of my talk was “How to Connect with Your Community’s Gatekeepers.” Here is Part 2 of my notes.

In giving a Theological Framework for “How to Connect with Your Community’s Gatekeepers,” I explained that there are too many factors to give a simple procedure for engaging one’s community. However, using Paul as an example (Acts 17), we need to have a Plan, Perseverance, Passion, and Perspective.

Having a proper perspective means pursuing and understanding others’ mindsets. It’s probably the trickiest of the four principles I outlined in my last post, so I’ll expand on it here.

If you want to connect with your community, you must grow in your perspective. And that means you must understand three key concepts: Relationships, Development, and Good Deeds.

Relationships

Relationships are always more important than programs. In our Western mindset, we often spend an inordinate amount of time planning and executing programs. We may improve efficiency and short-term effectiveness, but we leave a wake of broken hearts and souls behind us.

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” John Sowers

One common danger for churches is thinking that the community needs to go to their building for all programs. But, is that where people in your community normally (or want to) hang out? And when do they want programs and events?

When possible, partner with others, even if they think differently. When we moved to Allendale, we knew that working for the newly-launching Boys & Girls Club was the right decision, as opposed to moving here to begin our own program. In the process, I gained valuable knowledge and built numerous connections that I wouldn’t have had otherwise.

Contrast this with a church I know that wants to start a particular ministry in which they have zero experience. Another church just down the road has nearly the exact ministry they are looking at doing. It would be better, in my not-so-humble opinion, for them to partner with the other church. But these two churches never communicate, much less work together.

Some guys I know (from a church in another city) made a 1-year commitment to buy gas only from one gas station, and to always pay inside. Why? To slowly build a relationship with the people who work there. They would drive across town even when their cars were nearly empty. God has used their faithfulness to open up fruitful conversations.

Don’t let relationships be the tools that help you execute programs. Instead let the programs be the means to help you build relationships.

What if your vision and theology differs from the potential ministry partner? That’s OK, to a point. The closer that you will be partnering, the more you want to align the core of who you are. But if someone is giving out Hugs juices and you need Hugs juices, don’t over-complicate things.

Development

A key principle in the books When Helping Hurts and Toxic Charity (see the Helpful Resources section in Part 3), is that we must not continue in the mindset and methods of relief. Rather, in times of need, we must help others more from relief to rehabilitation to development. But too many of our efforts get stuck in that first phase.

For example, instead of operating a food pantry, develop a food cooperative, with the members setting the direction and making decisions. And instead of buying gifts through an “adopt-a-child” program (where paternalism is often promoted), consider having a school or church store (everything is a dollar!) that gives parents ownership.

As I was preparing this talk at Hardees one morning, my studying was interrupted by a talkative politician. After 45 minutes of listening to his blabbering, I spent 10 minutes explaining that both sides of political extremes are wrong. We cannot just have paternalism, but it’s just as wrong to have accountability outside of the context of relationships.

And for those of you who have a problem with government-led assistance, you need to remember that it was about a hundred years ago when evangelical churches started pulling out of serving the poor. A vacuum was created, and the government (thankfully) stepped in to fill the void.

We need to think about long-term development, and the trust to think this long is earned with time and relationships. Do not settle for continually providing relief. You may need to move more slowly (as relationship-building always requires), but you must work to empower others to lead and grow.

Good Deeds

This post is getting too long (imagine what my talk was like!). Come back later this week for the final part of this series.

Related Links:

**image courtesy of svilen001 via sxc.hu

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