DEACONS IN MISSION: importance of listening to the community

Diaconal Ministries Canada is not episcopalian, but I learn a great deal from their very focused diaconal approach.  This article advocates the necessity of doing a community survey ahead of thinking about appropriate mission initiatives.

If you’d like a slightly different approach written specially for deacons by a deacon:  https://deaconstories.files.wordpress.com/2017/05/4-session-course-for-parishes-preparing-for-mission2.pdf

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With a desire for spiritual renewal and the beginning of a new visioning process, the church realized that to move forward they would need to listen – listen to the Holy Spirit, listen to their community and listen to the congregation. The congregation knew about the Community Opportunity Scan (COS) offered by Diaconal Ministries and had tried it years ago but didn’t finish.

A COS is a process of discovery: through conversations and interviews, churches identify the assets, skills, resources, and potential partnership opportunities available in their community. A church can discover where God is already at work in their community and find ways to join Him.

“It’s critical that leadership be on board to see the whole process through,” commented Pastor Tim Sheridan, who has done a COS twice before with other congregations and knows how valuable it is. So in May of 2018, Maple Ridge CRC decided to give it another try – this time with leadership fully on board.

A committee of congregation members met several times throughout the year to gather demographic information, provide a questionnaire after a Sunday service for the congregation and interview 15 community members, including those from local businesses, faith groups, schools, and community agencies.

Most importantly, though, the church prayed.

“Prayer is central to this process,” notes Pastor Tim. “Churches should not rush into it without a proper prayer foundation.”

With a sense of expectancy, the city was divided up and people were encouraged to pray on site, armed with a journal to write down impressions and thoughts that came to them as they prayed. They prayed through the issues in the local paper each week and organized prayer meetings and walks throughout the neighbourhood.

“One of the biggest challenges was getting over our sense of familiarity,” Pastor Tim shared. “We found that even though we had been here for 60 years, God still had surprises for us.”

One big revelation was that their local neighbourhood’s demographics had changed dramatically. No longer was their surrounding neighbourhood old and aging, but filled with young families with young children. The COS also brought to light the prevalence of youth mental health issues and isolated seniors in their community. As a result, they identified three (3) areas where the greatest needs of their city most intersected with the gifts of the church body: Family Support, Mental Health and Seniors.

One pleasant surprise was that their church was already doing things that could bless and serve their community, once a few tweaks were made. One example was opening up their Christmas Senior Dinner to the whole community, which went over really well. When the person organizing their summer bible camp had to step down, the initial discussion was that they may need to discontinue it without another leader stepping up. After doing the COS and discovering the amount of young families in their own backyard, coupled with their church’s desire to support families, they decided the camp was too important to drop and it would be worth the extra energy to keep it going.

The COS Team also met with Katie Sullivan, who is a trustee with the local school board. She mentioned a program that they run where seniors go into local elementary schools to build relationships and mentor the students by reading aloud to them – with a particular focus on immigrant children. “This was another wonderful example of discovering an asset in the community and discerning ways we can join in with what God is already up to in our community,” Pastor Tim shared.

This is what a COS is all about: asset-based community development. Instead of the church creating a new program or ministry to meet the needs of the community and its people, churches can discover assets that already exist in their community and where God may already be at work.

“When I think about ministry, I want our local context to shape what we do,” shares Pastor Tim. “The COS gives a hands on way to work that out. I think every church should do one.”

A Church on Mission

4 thoughts on “DEACONS IN MISSION: importance of listening to the community

  1. …it has – i to should read into.

    Anyone or any group taking on community based social work should always find out what the group or community consider to be their priorities and then devise how to support them. It will lead to constructive engagement from the base.

    Liked by 1 person

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