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Touching The Community You Serve

by Virginia Ward

Every church is physically placed in a neighborhood to be salt, an agent that preserves, and light, a voice of God-consciousness. As youth leaders, we are privileged to work with youth to develop supportive communities as they journey through adolescence. It is important for youth ministries to be aware of the assets within their local church as well as those assets in their local community. The goal of mapping these assets is to build a network of resources for youth from the inside out through relationships.

In urban environments, the church building is often in close proximity to multiple homes, housing developments, businesses, schools, etc., making it easier to identify and access community assets. The word community in this context often refers to a physical neighborhood. Relationship building outside of the four walls of the church is essential for reaching and meeting the needs of the youth and families in the surrounding community. Often, the solutions for what ails a community are found within itself. The church is a great vehicle to lead the discovery process.

Suburban churches are not exempt from mapping the assets of its community. The community in this case may consist of people in your building representing the different parts of the town. Various affinity communities such as single parents or dividing the church by zip codes may be a way to begin an asset mapping of the resources available.

Community asset mapping is not a new concept. The pioneers of community development such as John Perkins, John McKnight, and John Kretzmann have created models that are helpful for ministries of all sizes. Congregations have become more engaged in their communities after creating an asset map to guide their work based on actual versus perceived needs. Our church began a community asset map with the help of a consultant that was funded through a faith based non-profit organization. The church leadership was led through a 15-month process that included gathering community data and multiple prayer walks.

Steps for creating an asset map for your ministry:

  1. Observation – Gather information about your community in written form and talk to key stakeholders—people who hold the keys to the daily functions of your community.
  2. Communication – Share the information with the appropriate leadership team.
  3. Pray – Ask God for His plans for your community.
  4. Engagement/Involvement – Create an action plan to put your discoveries into motion (faith with works).
  5. Pray without ceasing – While you are implementing your plan, pray for continued discernment, agreement, strength and persistence through the many obstacles and roadblocks.

Discovery of community assets is not always an easy road. Sometimes people can be possessive or feel threatened by building relationships, even if the ultimate goal is focused on youth.

Remember, the task at hand is to identify the places where people connect to each other in healthy relationships that include individuals, local associations and institutions. Sometimes those connects are right under our noses and we don’t recognize them unless we have a map. I encourage you to create an asset map for your youth ministry. You will be glad you did.

Resources: DeVos Urban Leadership Initiative (www.DVULI.org)
Books: Villafane, Eldin.
Seek the Peace of the City. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1995; Perkins, John. Restoring At-Risk Communities. Baker Books, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1995; Kretzmann, John, John McKnight. Building Communities From the Inside Out. ACTA Publications, Chicago, Illinois, 1993.

Virginia is the director of Black Campus Ministries New England for Intervarsity, a campus-based organization that seeks to build spiritual communities of students and faculty. She also serves as youth pastor at the Abundant Life Church in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where her husband of 30 years, Lawrence Ward, is pastor. She’s attending Gordon-Cornwell Theological Seminary completing a Doctorate of Ministry in Emerging Generations. Her national involvement includes serving as a trainer for the DeVos Urban Leadership Initiative, a national, faith-based urban youth leadership venture. Virginia and her husband reside in Boston with their two sons.

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