Thursday, June 30, 2011

Transforming your community through unity-a book review

A New Kind of Big ‘How Churches of Any Size Can Partner to Transform Communities” by Chip Sweney

Are you interested in transforming your community? Is it possible to unite the churches in the community to bring about transformation?
This book is about how the ‘Perimeter Church’ of Atlanta organized with other churches, within a 12 mile radius of Perimeter, to help meet the needs of the community eg. Hunger, prostitution etc. The author is the leader of a organization called ‘Unite’ which works with other churches in the Atlanta area to meet community needs.

The author says, “That the problem with the church is not its size…the problem with the church is its reach.” The issue is not about a big church but it is about big needs, needs that are greater than any one church can handle. Thus the author hammers home 2 points that needs to be done to bring about community transformation.
1) Vision and 2) collaboration with other churches and organizations within the community.
The author states that his vision for community action began with the junior high kids who he was in charge with while in Chicago. He shares the story of Brian, an avid hockey player, who decided to give away his prized hockey stick to a child in a transitional village for homeless families. The question then goes back to the church, how willing are we to free up resources-money, people, time- to reach out beyond the doors of our church building? That is a question that is good not only for the mega church but the small church as well. Another, more specific question that I would ask is how much money (percentage wise) should be designated for staff members? It seems like in the mega churches we have almost lost our sense of volunteering, most positions are paid positions. Along with how much money to spend for staff is another question on the heels of that, how much should we spend on our buildings? Does it help the kingdom to invest in bricks and mortar or in people?

The author then states that after their church established its vision, the “What if?”, question. They then began to answer the, “What now?’ question. The “What now? Is where great movements really begin”. Though their church planned for months for this ministry it moved beyond planning to doing. I liked the fact that one of the first things the church did was to partner with existing ministries versus beginning their own. I believe this is the toughest thing to do in any neighborhood or community. Join up and support existing ministries. Somehow to many times we want the recognition of doing this ministry and supporting a existing ministry is just not going to give us the recognition we desire. For example, I wonder how many different churches have their own food pantry? Would it not be better to combine resources and have one big food pantry than many small ones?

After a lot of community research they decided to put their resources into 4 main areas: Families, Justice, Education and Poverty. They joined with a already existing group to help with those involved in the sex trade and also went into the public schools to help with tutoring etc. I like what he said about the public schools, “Want to measure the level of poverty in your county? Simply track the number of free and reduced lunches in your public schools…our public schools are the alarm system for our communities, if we’ll just listen.”

The author also tells what some churches in other parts of the country are doing in community transformation eg. Knoxville, Long Beach and Little Rock.

He uses many examples and stories to drive home his points. He closes with his 4th Appendix stressing the need to build relationships and see where Gods reign is already evident. He gives 4 main principles for what he calls an asset-based approach to transformation:
1)God is already at work in the community
2) We are defined not by our problems but by our potential
3) Do ministry with people not to people
4) Effective ministry builds on assets.

This was a good book with practical steps they used in uniting churches for community outreach. If only this would work in every neighborhood and in every community. I believe it is yet to be seen where small churches would join together for such a cause. Maybe God has raised up the mega-churches for such a time as this. They have the financial resources, people and may I say, community authority, to lead in such an endeavor. If only they would catch the vision.

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