Community Discernment

Mar 5, 2021Uncategorized

This lesson focuses on doing discernment with your community and neighborhood.

Churches can get into a habit of walling themselves off from the community around them. It’s not intentional. It just happens over time. Instead of finding what it means to partner with the community, we can focus on needs or what we are comfortable providing. 

Over time, we become insulated from the people around us. The neighborhoods change, the people start looking different than us, and we begin to make assumptions. We create ministries we think people will want, rather than asking them what might make this a healthier community.

Relational meetings form the core of how to learn about doing ministry with our communities and neighborhoods, rather than doing ministry for them.

We hope you’ve learned from the people in your congregation where their heart for ministry resides. These conversations help you understand your capacity to start new things. They help you identify where people want to put their energy. Relational meetings can teach us about new leaders and their ideas as well. We hope some themes about your congregation are beginning to emerge as you take the next step.

We don’t underestimate how daunting this work can feel. It can be uncomfortable to enter new spaces and talk with new people. In fact, it can feel downright scary. Yet, it’s the work we’re called to as disciples.

After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go.

Luke 10:1

The simple fact is that if you want to minister and serve with your community, you have to be with them where they live and gather. We did it and are blessed through the relationships we built along the way. 

This wasn’t a one weekend thing for us. We walked and talked and dreamed with our community for a whole summer. The refrain we grew accustomed to in our conversations was: who should we talk to next? We went out in pairs on weekdays and weekends. We visited dog parks and restaurants, coffee shops and local businesses. We talked with owners and employees, moms and dads and children, commuters and residents.

After a while you grow accustomed to meeting new people and hearing their stories. You begin looking forward to finding out where peoples’ energy and heart for their community explodes and where their stories make your own heart break. This isn’t about sharing what you want to do with the community. It’s about finding out what would make the community come alive and wondering how you might be part of that journey.

While there are some exercises in this lesson, it’s more a process. It’s about bringing your whole self to a conversation and taking bits and pieces of what you learn back to the church with you to share with others.

Exercise 1

Develop a leadership team.

If you haven’t done so already, then it is important to develop a lead team for this process. You’ve had a chance to build your why together. Relational meetings offered the opportunity to expand this. They also gave you the chance to identify new leaders and people who may have the energy, creativity, and imagination to move the process forward. 

It’s time to build a team who can commit to continuing the momentum. Identify people who are aligned with the mission and values of the church. These are people committed to working through this process together. They should be able to meet regularly, pray for one another and community, read scripture and talk about it on the team, and communicate what they are learning to the wider church.

Before you head out into your community, spend time together as a team. Develop some questions and understand your process.

Getting to know one another makes it easier to trust one another in conversations.

If you already have a team in place, great. What resources and relationships do they need to take the next step?

Team Building Questions

  • How will you choose to be in relationship with one another?
  • What are the guidelines for our conversations and relationships as a team?
  • What specific questions do you have for people in the community or neighborhood?
  • What themes are you looking for?
  • How will you report what you learn to one another?
  • How will you share it with the church? 
  • When will you know you have talked to enough people?

Exercise 2

Make a list.

Go around the room and begin to make a list of all the people, parks, businesses, cafes, and restaurants you want to visit. Talk about the people you want to meet. We’d suggest, at least initially, that you go out in pairs, like the disciples. This can make the process feel a little less daunting, and it keeps you accountable to one another.

Think about natural connections in the beginning. What are the particular experiences of your group? Where do these experiences align with the list of places you want to visit? How can you also get out of these comfort zones and be curious about others’ experiences?

There are any number of ways to develop your list. Get in a van and drive the neighborhood together. Break up into your pairs and just walk around taking notes on what you see. Get a map and divide the space up between you. The only limits here are your imagination. The point is not to be exhaustive or overly rigid about who goes where. The point is to gather where the community gathers and have conversations.

It may help to develop a form or a document where people can write their impressions and what they heard after their conversations (don’t take notes during it). That way you can get a fresh record of what you heard, what questions it brings up, and who they thought you should talk to next.

Questions to Start a Conversation

  • Excuse me, do you work or live in the area?
  • What should I know if want to move here?
  • What do people around here do for fun?
  • What do you like about living/working here?
  • What are some of the challenges in the area?
  • What makes this a good community to be a part of?
  • What could make it a healthier place to live?
  • What’s your dream for this community?

Exercise 3

Leave the building.

That’s it. You’ve done the preparation. Now it is time to open your hearts to the people in your community. A couple of things to remember:

  • Be kind and compassionate.
  • Be honest about who you are what you are doing.
  • Be sensitive to people’s time. If they are an employee don’t take them away from other customers or monopolize their time.
  • Follow people as you listen. You may have particular questions, but don’t be so stuck on them that there’s no room for the Spirit to maneuver.
  • Always ask them who else they might recommend you talk to next.

Exercise 4

Reflect together on what you are learning.

Once each pair has spent time in the community come back and share what you’re learning. A couple things to think about here:

  • Who did you talk to? Who is missing from this list?
  • Was there a particular story, person, or experience that was meaningful to you? What made that time stick out?
  • What questions did we not ask that would help us learn more?
  • What are some of the themes from our conversations that we keep hearing?

Once you’ve regrouped and reflected, do it again. After the first round of conversations, additional people or organizations may have come to light. Add them to your list and follow up. If there are places on your initial list that haven’t been visited, go there as well.

Rinse and repeat as often as possible until you feel as though you’ve met with and understand your community. From there it’s a short jump to figuring out your what.