Thursday, April 07, 2011

Collaborative Community Ministry

(Continued from yesterday's post.)

While I was in Anchorage I had the chance to hear a presentation from what I think must be an unusual ministry.  Anchorage Faith & Action - Congregations Together (AFACT) is a network formed in 2003 by eight churches in order to mobilize their congregations to  address quality-of-life issues in the city of Anchorage. It now includes fifteen churches from six denominations with a combined attendance of about 10,000 people from various parts of the city.

A few things impressed me about AFACT. One is that they are not just trying to fix the problems they see, they are empowering ordinary people with the techniques they will need to go out and find out what others  in their communities really consider the problems to be. They discover and respond to gaps in health and safety, youth issues and education.

One pastor shared that when they did the grassroots neighborhood research, none of the things he had put on his top-ten list of issues made the top-ten lists of people in the neighborhood where his church was situated. Only when you go out and talk to people can you find out what the areas of greatest community concern really are. So if you want to build bridges and bring the changes that really matter to people, you have to put aside your pre-decided solutions; you have to listen and learn what people care about.

I believe that a listening ear is one of the greatest gifts anyone can give. Sounds like AFACT has discovered the same. Lots of churches plan community programs and service projects and go door to door to talk to people about Jesus or their church, but when you do that you're lucky to get a few positive, two-minute conversations out of a whole afternoon of trying. Whereas they have found that when the Christians introduce themselves as being part of AFACT and ask people what they are concerned about, they find much greater receptivity.

This ministry also empowers people to respond to the issues once they discover what they are. The 3.5-day leadership training helps those who attend understand how issue advocacy really works. They learn about power structures and community resources. They find ways that ordinary people can effectively work for the common good of the people in their communities.

Will I ever write that book about "the ministry of listening" that's been on my mind these last few years? If I do, I'll want to interview community organizers like the people from AFACT and see what they've learned along the way.

>> Learn more about AFACT. If you run into others doing this sort of thing, let me know, OK?

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