Why Community Development?
Why community development? Or, what role does community development play in church planting? Or, doesn't all this talk about community development detract from church planting? Fair questions.
As much I talk or write about the coupling of church planting with community development the reality is that I came into this conversation more by accident. I vividly recall years ago when I was tasked with catalyzing new churches in different parts of the city. When it came to lower income neighborhoods no one was planting there. It wasn't just our network or denomination, it was a city-wide phenomenon. Almost all planters ("back then" in the early 2000s) were opting for the suburbs and new master-planned communities all the while these lower income communities were being overlooked.
Often these lower income communities had higher rates of crime, lower test scores in the schools, were unsightly in terms of the built environment, and overall disregarded like a used cheeseburger wrapper. I also began to see that much of our training, ideas, and rhetoric surrounding church planting would do very little to address these issues that people living in these communities face on a daily basis. What follows were questions that began guiding my thoughts. What would it look like to plant churches in these neighborhoods? What do these communities need? How do new churches address the inequities that are prevalent in these communities?
What happened was that these questions all pointed to some kind of involvement in community development. For me that became the link. Church planting and community development must go together. We can plant all varieties of churches but if there's little to no direct involvement in what ails the community or city what messages are we communicating? That we're Neo-gnostics and only live and care about the spiritual plane and have no regard for life in there here and now? While we may not utter those words do our actions and activities speak otherwise?
Lastly, this call to consider community development is not framed in a conquest or colonial narrative. That somehow church planters coming in from the outside are the great hope and savior of what ails these communities. Instead, their posture is to be one of humility, coming alongside, loving, learning, collaborating and partnering, and being part of the community. You and your church have a rich opportunity to demonstrate what it looks like to live out the gospel in the neighborhood individually and as a church. When you do so you'll find yourself involved in some facet of community development.