Becoming more active in the community can be daunting for any church – however big or small. Dave Parr, CEO of Oasis Community Partnerships shares his top five tips on how to get started.
For the last couple of years, I’ve been helping to lead an Oasis course called ‘Active Church.’ The premise is simple – a few church leaders gather and listen to us tell the story of Oasis and how we’ve engaged with our communities across the world and we, similarly, listen to their stories.
By listening to each other’s experiences we can begin to collaborate on a pragmatic action-plan, which attendees can take back to their own churches and communities.
At each and every one of our Active Church sessions so far, three things have leaped out at me. The first is how much passion there is to make the Kingdom of God a tangible reality in their communities; irrespective of different denominations, sizes and demographics. The second, is the recognition that there needs to be a message of hope and inclusion for everyone. The third, is just how daunting we all find it to actually get started.
I get that. We live in a world where local churches really do run academy schools, foodbanks, credit unions and citizens’ advice centres.
It sometimes feels like you need a degree in education; a chartered accountancy qualification; and 10 years’ experience as social worker before you can possibly dare get cracking in the community. The potential for churches to deliver large scale projects has become so huge that we can quickly fall into a panic about biting off more than we can chew.
But the truth is that scary big projects are the fruit of a church becoming socially active – not a prerequisite for it. The most important thing is getting stuck in and showing our communities that we have a heart-for-service. Here’s my five top tips to get you started.
- Understand your community: There’s no reason that understanding your community’s needs has to be complicated.
- start chatting to local shopkeepers,
- request a meeting with the head teacher of the local primary school,
- arrange to talk with your local councillors,
- before long, you will start to get a clear perspective on the needs of your community
- you and your congregation probably already have a fair idea of the need that’s out there – but this will help test your knowledge and catch a few new insights.
- Use your assets: It might be that a 24/7 drop-in centre is the biggest need in your community – but if you are a church without its own building, you are probably unlikely to be able to step into that breach immediately.
- look at your assets and work out where you are best placed to help, for example: perhaps the local lunch club needs more volunteers, or even people to prepare meals in advance,
- check if there’s a need for people to read with youngsters at the nearby primary school, there will always be ways to put the willing to good use.
- Start small: Most people involved in church leadership are big dreamers. That’s no bad thing. The scale of the world’s problems are so big that we need an equally big sense of vision if we’re to play our part in solving them. However to make things manageable:
- take it one step at a time,
- look at low-skill projects, such as coffee mornings, which are easier to organise and can be done with a small number of people and small amounts of cash,
- coffee mornings for isolated older people, for example, can be organised relatively easily, yet can be a huge blessing to some of our senior citizens.
- Pair up and share the load: As a general rule, bigger projects, which require greater funding and infrastructure, are best operated by more than one church.
- groups of churches – and similar umbrella gatherings – have mixed levels of success, but working together on a project can give those projects a greater level of focus,
- you may not agree on every facet of doctrine and theology – but chances are, you’re united in your passion to transform lives in your community.
- Tap into existing infrastructure and networks – A whole host of Christian networks exist to help get projects off the ground.
- the Trussell Trust have helped Christians launch and sustain foodbanks all over the UK,
- Community Money Advice and Christians Against Poverty both provide the training and expertise that have allowed debt advice centres to be established,
- others include the Cinnamon network and of course Oasis.
‘Making a difference’ doesn’t come in one size, one shape or have one, easily replicable result. However, by starting small, we can show our communities that we are open and inclusive and start to build essential bridges. Before long we will see, and be at the centre of, thriving communities.