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National Conference 2018 Education Experience
Theme... ALL IN
Session Three, Article  Two

He died for everyone so that those who receive his new life
will no longer live for themselves.
Instead, they will live for Christ, who died and was raised for them.
2 Corinthians 5:15 (NLT)

Up to this point in our series, we have taken a closer look at ourselves - who we are and what we bring to the table as we prepare to launch into missional ministries. We have also taken a closer look at the corporate gathering we call "my/our church." We have recognized that our congregation consists of a number of "I"s that need to become a "We."
     Finally, we briefly pondered the nature of the mission God has redeemed and gathered us to embrace. Our mission is his mission. We are to join God in redeeming people and Creation. This has many facets. Our current interest is in addressing the needs of people in our community (to minimize their distractions) as we seek to develop relationships that might become bridges over which the gospel might cross.

In this endeavor to assess our communities, our first issue is to ask the right questions.
There are safe questions: Who lives near me? What are their names? What do they do to entertain themselves? We should answer these questions along the way, but we want to dig a bit deeper, make an effort to figure out what is going on in our community that we might be able to engage with the intended end goal of improving the quality of life with and for our neighbors. Notice I say "with and for" our neighbors. Our neighbors ought NEVER become our current Sunday school project. So... we must figure out how to engage our neighbors in what I would call a relational assist. We pull alongside of them and work with them toward something new.

A good question to begin with is... "What do you think are the basic needs of a community?" Note that we begin with a generic - out-there-focused question. It's easier to talk with others than about ourselves, or even about our community. Start here. Play with this question.
     A second question, almost exactly like the first question is... "What do you think are the basic needs of your/our community?" The answers should be easy to identify as they have already been discussed with the first question. The issue here, however, is that the discussion is narrowed to life outside the church doors and windows. Could you start with this question and save time? Maybe. You know your family better than I do. My experience has been that starting with me or near me nets crickets instead of serious conversation.
     Finally, we must drill down into the ideas identified from the first two conversations around the first two questions. The focus now is on your/our community. No longer generic, this discussion is about you/us. "What do you think are the unique or specific needs of your/our community?" Here we drill down and name the needs that are at just outside the safety of our buildings.
     These questions are really all we need to assess the needs represented by our communities... by our neighbors, maybe even owned by you and me.

Second issue... the assessors... Who should be responsible to determine the needs of the community? Or of the neighborhood?

As a church planter (in 1995)... new to the community, I was basically alone. I was forced to be creative. I was moved to make friends with people who knew my new community. Wait staff in local restaurants. Funeral home directors. Anyone my wife or daughter met. I suppose these would still work in a community where you have lived for years. Their eyes and ears will probably capture needs you miss.
     Hopefully... as part of an existing congregation, you'll find many who might be able to help. Pastoral staff... paid or volunteer. Leadership team. Anyone who occupies a pew on Sunday. And this team of assessors will hook you up with what they can learn from... their kids' school teachers, sports coaches; their letter carrier, auto mechanic, grocery store checkout clerk; even anyone they know outside of the church fellowship.

Third issue... the task... this assessment of your community is about the place... What does the place look like? City or suburb or rural? Crowded or sparsely populated? Well-cared for or run down? Closed to new people OR welcoming, expanding and growing?
     This assessment of your community is about the people... Who lives there? What are they like? What do they do? What do they have? What do they think? Note that it is all too easy to get lost in the streets around our buildings, to look but not see, to hear but not understand.
     And so... one final question... "If you don't already know, how would you go about determining the unique or specific needs of your community?" We'll come back to this point!

Let's take a look at the "get-to-know-your-community" questions...

What do you think are the basic needs of a community - any community? (the generic ideas)
Answers might include... shelter, food, safety; employment; education; recreation & exercise; public services, cable, telephone, internet; sense of community, well-being; sense of belonging - "I am part of this community."

What do you think are the basic needs of your/our community? (closer to home)
This question should net the same as the first question... except for the more locally specific issues... maybe more intense poverty; maybe high unemployment; maybe few businesses serving the community; maybe scary gangs, no sense of safety.

What do you think are the unique or specific needs of your/our community? (drilling down)
With this question, we now are addressing the very specific-to-my/our community that may be unique to my/our community. Maybe will identify issues that touch my/our church.
     We might identify: education issues - schools need more resources, more volunteers; employment & business issues - there might be very little in the town, more in nearby towns; safety issues - drugs in the neighborhood, some crime reported; or financial needs - the standard of living is low. (We discovered that 42% of our neighborhood kids get free meals at school, while nearly 50% of our neighborhood kids get free or subsidized meals at our local elementary school. This is a statement about our community worth noting.)
     This final point of discovery moved us to help develop a way to feed kids over school breaks. And moved us to partner in a new ways with our local school.

SO... How do we learn about our community?

This is an important question. How? How would you go about determining the unique or specific needs of your community? Here are a few ideas...

Demographic studies... start by Googling "free demographics for your town's name." Local town halls might have info listings. There are "for fee" demographic studies (Percept... providing extensive demographic information for identified geographic areas around your church. Website tools allow you to personalize the information reports per your needs. Website: www.perceptgroup.com AND The Church Planting Supersite... seeks to assist with the multiplication of Christ-centered churches by providing a one-stop portal that will showcase the very best services, products, and ministries related to church planting. This includes demographic studies. Website... http://www.churchplantingsupersite.com.
     Published surveys... Barna Group (tends to think larger than your locale, but still helpful; people are people are people). Online resources can be helpful (local town hall might have info listings).
     You could, maybe should, drive or walk through the area with eyes open. this can overlap prayer walks or drives. This can overlap your daily "run" for health. This can overlap your hand-holding walk with your spouse. Or walk with your kids. Or walk with your dog or kangaroo. (Kangaroo would attract a lot more attention.)
     Do a survey with your eyes. Take notes as you walk/drive, looking for young families, senior communities, yards filled with kids' toys, RVs and boats - recreational luxuries. Notice socio-economic markers... yards filled with rusty & broken kids' toys, poorly cared for homes.
     Meet with the mayor or other area officials. Local politicians can be deep wells about the community. You'll need to be willing to listen to their stump speech but you will learn about the community. Funeral home directors KNOW the people they serve. You should know these folks already or you should visit and introduce yourself. Local counselors... you do know your area counselors, right? You should know these people as well or you should visit and introduce yourself. Nurses and other medical professionals. Don't ever, ever run by the nurses' station! Stop and say hello. Stop and ask if you need to know anything before your visit. This act earns respect, helps you "be known," is a step toward conversations - conversations that provide helpful insights.
     When necessary, the cost of a lunch is a good investment. Be sure to attend community meetings - town hall and neighborhood association meetings. Join a local book club. Join a sports club, the bowling league. JOIN SOMETHING you are interested in. You'll last longer. You'll legitimately be among new people. Read the local newspaper. Read the local school publications. Read the local shoppers publications.

Now that we know a whole lot more about ourselves. Now that we know a lot more about our community. What's next? Build bridges... from your congregation to the community.
     Identify the needs you can meet. When the fruit of your community surveys parallel the fruit of congregational surveys, you have the destinations your bridge must connect.
     They need volunteers at the local shelter; we have people who like to cook. Our neighbors have broken things; we have people who know how to and can fix things. They have kids doing in school; we have people who can read and do math. 
     Imagine, design, develop and launch ministries to meet your community's need(s). I have observed that many people with needs already have ideas on what might help them. Listen to people!
     Once in action... pray for and look for connection points to develop relationships - even friendships - with people, relationships that might lead to witness. KEY... don't reduce people to projects. Don't fake a friendship. People can smell a rat!
     Invest in the lives of people you connect with... address their felt needs, befriend them (many people are lonely), speak into their soul needs as opportunities arise, introduce them to Jesus, invite them to church or to a small group, or create a gathering where your friends (church and non-church) can come together for an integrated fellowship.
     Involve yourselves in the harvest... when in the right place at the right time we get to watch God heal and save and change lives. It just takes one such moment to fuel your tank for months of service.

Your imagination or access to resources and others' ideas is what you build on as you "go and make disciples" by "loving your neighbor" as "empowered by the Holy Spirit."
     Launch or partner with a food ministry. Launch or partner with a children's ministry. Launch or partner with a program that provides space for relationships.
     Meet new people... outside of your church: sports, clubs and hobbies. Live side-by-side until God provides a Jesus moment. Make the most of each relational moment!

"ALL IN" ties together our lives, our churches and our communities under Jesus' Kingdom. Our lives when we make them available, our churches when they lean toward discipleship and missional ministries, become carriers of love to our communities, lifelines from Christ's people to our communities.

Go and Make Disciples

Les Cool, Kingdom Extension Associate

Discussion Questions:
  • What did you hear/read?
  • What do you think about what you heard/read?
  • What will you do because of what you have heard/read?
  • When do you think you will do this?
  • Who do you think needs to be part of this conversation?