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How to Make your Church Invaluable to the Community
By John Fuder, Ginger Kolbaba
Moody PublishersCopyright © 2014 John Fuder
All rights reserved.
ONE CHURCH'S SUCCESS STORY: ADAPTING TO THE GROWING LATINO COMMUNITY
Our neighborhoods are in a continual state of change. God is sending the nations to our cities and as Christ-followers embedded in local churches we are, at times, overwhelmed in how to respond. Pastor David Potete, one of my former graduate students and longtime friend and ministry comrade in the Belmont-Cragin (Bel-Cragin) neighborhood on Chicago's Northwest Side, talked to me recently about the learning curve in working with his church to engage the community. His journey serves as a blueprint for us as we study and serve our changing communities. Here is his story.
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I knew the importance of understanding demographics and the need to know the community the church is trying to reach. So when I and a few others planted Northwest Community Church in Chicago in 1991, I spent $600 on a demographic study of our neighborhood. But even with that knowledge, I had no idea the stunning value exegeting our community would have on the life of our church. In 2005 as part of my graduate studies, I took Dr. Fuder's class on community analysis. While it gave me a better understanding of what it means to be a student of my community, it only paved the way to the greater firsthand knowledge that came a year later when Dr. Fuder asked me if his graduate class could partner with our church to do a community analysis of our neighborhood.
Of course, I said yes. I knew I would learn more about the area I served. I met with the graduate students, discussed the neighborhood as I understood it, and worked with the class to develop a survey. The experience was informative and enlightening, since it challenged me to articulate my perceptions in a way I had not previously been forced to.
We surveyed the neighborhood, the grad class tabulated the results, and presented a booklet with several suggestions to our church. Though I was grateful for the experience, I didn't expect some great insight that would revolutionize our church.
At the time Northwest Community Church was 85 percent Caucasian, 10 percent Latino, and 5 percent African-American. Being in the predominantly Latino neighborhood of Bel-Cragin, it was obvious to everyone that we needed to become more Spanish-speaking in our services. We made some effort, but admittedly, it was not very intentional. And not very effective. The most we usually did was to occasionally sing a song or read a Scripture in Spanish.
When our church was presented with the community analysis report, however, we felt as if it were a smack in the face. It helped us understand our community as we never had before. It clarified where we were. And it made it crystal clear to us where we needed to go.
Even simply pointing out the demographic makeup of Bel-Cragin in the report was eye-opening. Though we knew the demographics by experience, to see it in black and white on the page was critical. The report's recommendations made it clear we must be bilingual. Community analysis gave us insights that truly revolutionized our church!
With the report and our new knowledge and understanding of our neighborhood, the first thing we did was to revisit and develop a theology of the nations for our church. We already had that kind of theology for our international missions, but it was lacking for missions around our block. We studied passages in Scripture and concluded that our mandate to make disciples starts right on our street! We now hold the conviction that we are to be a truly multiethnic, multicultural, and multilingual church. Part of that conviction is that we now hold bilingual services with Spanish and English combined in the same service.
We realized that if we wanted to serve and reach our community—as our name suggests—we had to make deliberate and intentional changes. In fact, our associate pastor, Gowdy Cannon, took the results so seriously that he traveled to Peru for a month to immerse himself in Spanish. We developed a translation team and began translating our flyers, bulletins, website, and worship slides into Spanish. We also invested in an FM transmission system to provide live translation through headphones.
Next we looked at our sanctuary's setup. The chairs faced the stage at the front of the sanctuary. One Sunday we moved the chairs into four sections with each section facing the center of the room. Instead of standing on the stage to preach, I stood in the center of the floor. When I was seated, I looked directly at my brothers and sisters worshiping. The first time I saw the joy of my Latino church family worshiping in their heart language confirmed to me that what we were doing was pleasing to God and a blessing to others. We now rearrange the chairs for this type of setup several times a year.
We still have a long way to go. Our attendance is now about 35 percent Latino, 5 percent African-American, 50 percent Caucasian, and a smattering of everything else.
There is no doubt in my mind we have become more of the church God wants us to be as a result of engaging in community analysis. And we are committed to reengaging in that type of analysis every few years to stay on track.
I thought I knew my community, and I did to a degree. However, the process of community analysis clarified, crystalized, and truly changed our approach to fulfilling the Great Commission in our neighborhood.
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Armed with knowledge, understanding, and the Holy Spirit's guidance, we too can go out into our communities to meet people where they are and introduce them to the gospel. Let's get started.
TOP TEN TIPS TO EXEGETE A CULTURE
As we start unpacking exactly what neighborhood mapping, or community analysis, is and how to do it, let the following step-by-step process guide your journey. We'll go more in-depth with each of these in the following chapters.
1. Go as a Learner
Assume a position to understand, not judge the neighborhood. This requires humility, persistence, and the courage to push past your fears. An accepting and inquisitive posture can open doors into another culture. Linguist and missions author Betty Sue Brewster's steps of cultural learning is helpful here: Come as a learner, find ways to serve, seek to form friendships, weave God's story into their story, and bathe everything in prayer.
2. Seek Out an "Informant"
Find an individual who is a gatekeeper, an insider, a "[person] of peace" (Luke 10:6). This is someone who will let you into his lifestyle or subculture. He is an expert who can teach you about his journey as "lived experience." She is a model (albeit imperfect!) of another belief or practice and can connect you to that world.
3. Build a Relationship
As much as you can, be a "participant observer" in that person's life, culture, and activities. A relationship, growing into a friendship, is key because in it a "trust-bond" is formed, and trust is the collateral of cross-cultural ministry. In the process, God is at work to break your heart for that community (see Matt. 9:13; Luke 13:34).
4. Use an Interview Guide
You may not always "stay on script," but it is helpful to work from an outline. You could apply the same categories already provided and then adapt the questions (see appendix 1) within them to meet your specific needs.
5. Analyze Your Data
Depending on the formality of your community analysis, you will in all likelihood end up with some form of "field notes." A crucial step, often neglected, is to examine your data for holes, patterns, or hooks. What missing pieces could your informant fill in? What interests, activities, or values are recurrent themes? Is there anything you could use to enter your informant's world more deeply?
6. Filter through a Biblical Worldview
What Scriptures speak to the information you are discovering? What does the Bible say about the activities, lifestyles, and beliefs you are exegeting or reading in your neighborhood? What would Jesus do, or have you do, in response to the needs? A biblical framework is your strongest platform on which to mobilize your church/ministry/school to action.
7. Expand into the Broader Community
Your informant can act as a "culture broker" to give you entry into the additional lifestyles and subcultures within the broader community. As you learn to "read your audience" (become "streetwise") and develop credibility in the neighborhood, you can leverage those relational contacts into greater exposure and deeper familiarity with the needs in your area.
8. Network Available Resources
As your awareness of the community grows, you will invariably feel overwhelmed by all there is to do, missionally speaking! You do not have to reinvent the wheel. Is anyone else working with that audience? Can you partner with another church, ministry, or agency? With whom can you share and gather resources and information?
9. Determine What God Is Calling You to Do
With your newly acquired knowledge about your community, what do you do now? Plant a church? Start a new ministry? Refocus your current programs? Much of your response will depend upon your personnel and resources. But you are now poised to do relevant, kingdom-building work in your community.
10. Continually Evaluate, Study, Explore
Our hope in Christ is firm, but everything and everyone around us is in constant motion. Is your neighborhood changing (again)? Who is God bringing to your community now? Is your church or ministry responsive to those opportunities? Are you winsome, relevant, engaging? We must always ask these questions, in every generation, in order to "serve the purpose of God" (Acts 13:36).CHAPTER 2
Q. What is community analysis?
A. Community analysis, or neighborhood mapping, is a practical approach of learning how to understand and reach your neighborhood in order to effectively proclaim and demonstrate the gospel.
Before we are able to map our neighborhoods, it's important to understand what this process looks like. The Word of God offers some clear direction, as well as a helpful formula designed to take us more deeply into a community.
A LOOK AT SCRIPTURE: HOW PAUL SUCCESSFULLY READ A COMMUNITY
Acts 17:16–31 provides a scriptural framework for community analysis. As you read these verses, note (particularly in the verses I bolded) how the apostle Paul was a culture broker, an astute exegete of culture who understood audiences.
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While Paul was waiting for [Silas and Timothy] at Athens, his spirit was being provoked within him as he was observing the city full of idols. So he was reasoning in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles, and in the market place every day with those who happened to be present. And also some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers were conversing with him. Some were saying, "What would this idle babbler wish to say?" Others, "He seems to be a proclaimer of strange deities,"—because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection. And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, "May we know what this new teaching is which you are proclaiming? For you are bringing some strange things to our ears; so we want to know what these things mean." (Now all the Athenians and the strangers visiting there used to spend their time in nothing other than telling or hearing something new.)
So Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, "Men of Athens, I observe that you are very religious in all respects. For while I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription, 'TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.' Therefore what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things; and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, 'For we also are His children.' Being then the children of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and thought of man. Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead."
The apostle Paul did three things as he "read" the community in which he found himself.
1. Initial observation. The first thing Paul did while waiting for Silas and Timothy to arrive was to observe, or glance at, his surroundings. My older version of the NASB says that he beheld. This was just an initial look, a first glance. He noticed things that needed biblical attention. So much of understanding a community is seeing the need, being willing to be in it, walk in it, experience it. Do we see? Do we allow God to break our hearts over our communities in the tragic disconnect between who Christ is and who the community is?
2. Deeper observation. In verse 22, we read that Paul told the group that he had been taking a closer look, an observation. It's about going deeper. He had time to muse and reflect. He was considering how what he'd seen was broken and what God's solution might be. This was a move from the "what" to the "how" of the issue.
3. Examination. He continued in verse 23 by saying he examined the objects of their worship. This word is the deepest of the three, reflecting an analytical process. He was now hypothesizing the "why" of the issue. He worked toward understanding their lifestyle and language, in order to tap into their longings. He moved into an aspect of engaging them relationally and trying to make sense out of this community, to find things in common, which led him to the boldness to proclaim truth to them.
Paul's posture is a model we can follow. He told them, "You're amazing! You are so sincere. You are seeking." He didn't chide them for what they were missing. He affirmed them for the fact that they were seeking. By verse 27, he was able to offer them the biblical solution they'd been looking for.
In the early 1990s pastor Leith Anderson put together a helpful formula for what community analysis looks like. He wrote that diagnosis (D) plus prescription (Rx), along with hard work (HW) and the power of God (PG) results in a changed community.
(D+Rx) HW + PG = Changed Church/Community
Let's unpack each of those aspects of the formula to help us better understand the strategic way we come to a neighborhood.
Diagnosis (D). I use the vowels a, e, i, o, u to help clarify what this means: analyze, examine, inspect, observe, and uncover. We use all of these techniques in order to discover the community. It implies a rigorous or disciplined pursuit.
Prescription (Rx). Based on that analysis or diagnosis, we prescribe an answer or a strategy, in a sense, a biblical solution. Think of it in medical terms. When we go to a doctor for any health issue, our bodies are checked out and diagnosed—that diagnosis is about getting to the root of what is causing the ailment. From that diagnosis the doctor then prescribes an antidote, a medicine to bring a greater level of healing. In a similar way, as Christ-followers, we look to weave the gospel into the fabric of a community, so we come as ministry practitioners, sort of spiritual doctors.
We understand the amount of training and the years of medical study that one goes through in order to properly diagnose a patient. From a ministry standpoint, we need not neglect or take lightly the work of analyzing or inspecting our communities. We do so at a damaging cost.
Many of us were raised in environments that are unlike the places God has called us to. I was raised in a small, predominantly Caucasian, town in Michigan. But God's calling on my life has been in big cities, such as Chicago, Los Angeles, and the San Francisco Bay area, where I lived as a minority in ethnically and culturally diverse areas. I had a lot of learning to do.
Excerpted from Neighborhood Mapping by John Fuder, Ginger Kolbaba. Copyright © 2014 John Fuder. Excerpted by permission of Moody Publishers.
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