Recently I met with a church that wanted to do an event in a specific neighborhood we are involved in. Their great heart and passion to help people was apparent . They wanted to be a blessing to the under-resourced community, wanted to be the hands and feet of Jesus--and they already had a plan: give out food and clothing, have games and prizes for the kids, share the Gospel message, pray for the hurting people, invite them to church, love them with the love of Jesus. Their hearts were in the right place; they wanted to spend their time and energy outside their church.
Constituent transformation starts with offering people a new frame of reference. What really happens when we just do these “parachute jumps” into a community? What does it look like from the other side, the community members' side whose kids want to participate?
Strangers are coming in and interacting with my kids--can I trust them?
People are telling my kids about a God that I don’t know about--are they a sect? Will they mislead my children?
People give my kids snacks--but are they healthy? Are they safe?
Who said I need food and clothing? Do you not think I can't provide for my own family?
If I take your food will I get more next month? I have gotten used to getting free stuff from churches.
Maybe these questions are not exactly what is on people’s minds, but I am sure that it undermines their dignity, that it makes them feel less capable of providing for their families, that it does not bring out the gifts, passions and abilities that these families have, and that it creates a dependency on outside resources.
What if instead of spending the time, energy and money for a two hour event, this church would "adopt" a neighborhood? What if they would learn some of the Asset Based Community Development principles and practices and get involved in a neighborhood for 5 years? What if instead of handing out free stuff they would learn people’s names, find their passions and gifts, and help in the exchange of those gifts? What if the church would come every week, not with cookies and soda, not with clothing and gifts, but with hearts open to see God’s image in every person, with minds open to hear their stories and discover their amazing gifts and with hands willing to work side by side on the issues that the community sees as necessary?
What if the neighbors would see Christ lived out in the lives of the Christians and would want to experience some of that Shalom in their own lives? What if the church were invited to start a Bible study, not because they forced themselves in, but because the love of God was so evident that people became curious about a God who cares enough to be involved in their neighborhood?
What if they get to see a God who doesn’t give hand-outs and abandons them afterwards, but a God who walks side by side with people helping them up the hill by giving a hand-up!
In the end the church went ahead with their outreach as planned, but we continue our dialogue.