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Sunday, March 19, 2017

Community Development *is* Congregational Development: #AllPeoplePractices

Image result for love thy neighbor billboardThere seems to be a belief that 'loving thy neighbor' is something to do in the Church's spare time, after we have 'sealed the deal' for the soul in the afterlife.

But in scripture, we see that Jesus consistently forms his ministry around the pairing of service and witness. We follow a Christ that was very concerned with personal salvation, and yet did not trivialize the suffering he encountered on earth.

That is why UM Church for All People and its sister nonprofit Community Development for All People are inextricably linked. Neither can exist without the other. Community development is congregational development.

It's not uncommon to hear someone identify C4AP as "that church that sells houses." While it's technically the nonprofit organization that does the affordable housing work, our community understands that work of the two organizations are intertwined with together. And it matters to them. Indeed, we are also often identified as "that church that does what a church is supposed to do"

As we serve in partnership with our community, we are tangibly demonstrating God's love in practical and meaningful ways. We build trust by forming relationships of mutuality and accompaniment. We send the message that God cares deeply about who we are, and is intimately involved with our daily struggles and victories. As we deepen our involvement in the community, it's no wonder that the church grows as a result.

Image result for church for all people free store
UM Free Strore
Conversely, to serve our community without giving of our very best would be to short change the people we are there to help. And what better do we have to offer but the Good News of Jesus Christ? Too often we volunteer in a pantry or donate our goods believing that the people we encounter are worthy of our charity, but not of our Jesus.

Even though the Free Store is run through the nonprofit, the church hosts worship each weekday before the store opens. People feel like the church is their home, and we a family in it. Thus, there are individuals who come experience worship up to seven times each week!

In a time when too many churches are closed Monday through Saturday, it matters that Church for All People owns a Free Store that welcomes 600+ people through the church doors each week. People experience God's grace in tangible ways, and learn about a Christ who identifies with the oppressed and marginalized. The community sees that we are a welcoming place that accepts everyone for who they are, and so becomes intrigued with who we are. We have been able to build and maintain a diverse church congregation because every single day we engage in the discipline of bridging cultural divides through radical hospitality in the community development work we do. We are able to attract the full spectrum of of the diversity of our surrounding neighborhood, and then invite them into a deeper journey. People enter our building that otherwise might never have given church a second chance, and never imagined they might be welcomed and loved. We form relationships, and in turn we grow the church.

At the same time, it matters that the nonprofit is connected with our church. It gives meaning and motivation for people to volunteer and donate. It attracts missionally aligned individuals to help do the work. It provides a connectional network and legacy from which to grow. But perhaps most importantly, it helps us see the people we serve as our siblings in Christ. It matters that we worship next to the very same people that shop with us in the Free Store. We are unified in Christ, not divided by serving counters. We are a family, not strangers. We are friends, not charity cases. We grow to know and love each other, intimately understanding each others' hopes, dreams, and aspirations. We understand each other in a way that is impossible when only seeing one another through the lens of a service to be provided. Through our fellowship we are able to gain the interpersonal trust to invite people into the next good thing that God would have for each other and our families. We expand the church, and in turn we build strong communities and change lives.

Too often we divorce service and salvation, as though doing one is at the expense of the other. The reality is quite the opposite. The church needs the nonprofit, and the nonprofit needs the church.
We build relationships, to build the church, to build the Front Porch of the Kingdom of God.

How is your church linking congregational development with community development?
For tips and ideas to get you started view our resources on the Divine Economy of Abundance

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By Their Strange Fruit by Katelin H is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
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