Community Opportunity Scan

From “Identity Crisis” to Identity in Christ

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Providence CRC’s Community Opportunity Scan Opens New Doors into the Community

The congregation members and leadership team might not have said it outright, but Providence Christian Reformed Church was experiencing an identity crisis.

The congregation had a 30-year foothold in their Beamsville, ON, community, one of the sleepier spots along the QEW corridor. But, while the church was originally built in a rural setting, surrounded by the orchards and vineyards of the Niagara Greenbelt, it had become more and more of a suburban area.

As a church, Providence had a lot of strengths. “We’re friendly and welcoming to people who are at different stages on their faith journeys,” said Katie Riewald, Director of Community Connections. “We’re unified and responsive when there’s a need or crisis. We have capable and willing young leaders.”

But the problem wasn’t a lack of love for Christ or their neighbours. (When is it ever?) Steve DeBoer, lead pastor at Providence, shared that the church was “in the middle of some congregational changes that were challenging the church, and causing some stress.” One of these was a sudden shift in demographics, with the average age in the church dropping significantly, and a rapid influx of young families. Riewald also adds that there was “a collective lack confidence in how God was using us.” The congregation craved a sense of clarity on how to intentionally engage with their community.

Enter the Community Opportunity Scan.

Community Opportunity Scan? What’s that?

In its simplest form, the Community Opportunity Scan — otherwise known as a COS — is a tool for churches to learn more about the community around them. It’s also a way for members of a congregation to start conversations with their neighbours. Most importantly, though, it’s a program inspired by the love of Christ and the Great Commission — Jesus’ call to make disciples of all nations.

A Community Opportunity Scan is a tool for churches to learn more about the community around them.

Typically, a COS goes through three stages…

  1. Defining your community — Once a team of 5–8 church members is created, your diaconate defines a geographical area that your church wants to get to know.
  2. Gathering information — Doing background research on the assets within a community, and the demographics that make it up, gives your church’s team the context it needs.
  3. Conversations & listening — This is the key piece. Your team interviews members of your community, opens up conversations… and most importantly, listens well.

The whole process is one bathed in prayer and discernment. And it goes beyond identifying needs. It also affirms the unique gifts and assets in your community and your church. The end result shows churches — and their deacons, especially — clear areas to pursue justice and work with community partners.

How the Process Looked for Providence

About 13 years ago, DeBoer attended the Diaconal Ministries’ Annual Day of Encouragement. While there, he learned about the COS process. He wanted to start doing one with Providence, but the timing never felt right.

Things changed when the church made the decision to hire Pastor Mike Collins as a Community Pastor in 2016. One of the main objectives of his job description was to lead the congregation through a COS. “For the COS to be led with integrity, we needed help,” DeBoer recalls. “Having Pastor Mike join us, with the experience he had, gave us confidence to move from talking about it to actually doing it.”

When Pastor Collins came on board, he saw immediately that Providence Church was ready! “I knew the COS was a great tool for any church who desires to realign their compass to face towards local mission opportunities,” he shared. “The COS helped [Providence] focus around that singular cause. It helped to pave the way for building significant community partnerships, identify the potential to transform neighbourhoods and areas within its own church that needed to change. The church grew in its understanding of how God’s Kingdom was forming outside its doors.”

The Results: A Church on Mission with Jesus!

“We have a congregation that is actively learning to lean into what it means to follow Jesus in a missional way.”

Katie Riewald

Ultimately, the end result was a sharpening of Providence’s identity. With clear, tangible ways to engage with their community, they’re no longer in “crisis.” And it’s not just a “win” for the church, either — it’s a win for the community too! “We have a congregation that is actively learning to lean into what it means to follow Jesus in a missional way,” Riewald shared.

More specifically, some of the things that the COS helped Providence identify were:

  • There are lots of services in Beamsville, but most are working in isolation to each other. They found the isolation was detrimental to those who needed access to services. There were gaps, repeated services – and nearly no collaboration at all. This was especially highlighted by the fact that one school they talked to had incredible resources and access to support from the community, but another school, perhaps even more in need, was completely lacking – and they were only a few blocks apart!
  • There are a lot of churches supporting the same causes. Because of this, Providence now limits their key partners. By narrowing their focus, their congregation now has something tangible to engage with. “Once we were able to more clearly demonstrate what we were going to do and why,” said Riewald, “there was high buy-in and enthusiasm from the congregation.” Today, Providence has identified three main causes to support in their community: The Convos Youth Zone, Community Care of West Niagara and the Grimsby Life Centre.
  • There needed to be more coordination for the church’s community involvement. The results of the scan, combined with enthusiasm of the congregation and willingness of partners — as well as the fact that Providence has no team of deacons — resulted in the decision to hire a part-time Director of Community Outreach. This person’s job is to live out the results of the scan, connect with Providence’s key partners, build new relationships and help the congregation love and come alongside their community.

For Providence Church, “the COS was an important part of a larger 2-year Love Lincoln Campaign in pushing us to love our community,” DeBoer shared.

Some Practical Advice on Conducting a COS

Outside of the results, Riewald also shared some more practical tips for churches who are either going through or thinking about starting a scan.

  • Make sure that a comprehensive Communication Plan is in place BEFORE you start, so that the church is engaged in what’s happening. Having clear communication between the team who is interpreting the results and leadership (pastor, elder board, council, deacons, etc.) is essential so that all sides know what the expectations are.
  • Train your volunteers well on how to conduct, record, and transcribe interviews, as well as on how to initiate conversations and explain what the COS is and why it is important. Be sure to lay out your biases, assumptions, and expectations before you start and continually check in so that they do not dominate the discussion.
  • Have someone in place whose job (either volunteer or not) it is to run the scan, and limit the amount of people who have say over interpreting the results.
  • Remember that the COS is a tool – it’s not going to tell your church exactly what to do, but it will help your church start having those discussions. DeBoer reminds churches that “the COS gave us a reason to engage our community leaders—from principals to business leaders to elected officials—providing the start to a conversation we could build on. The kinds of questions the COS had us asking showed them we were thinking beyond our walls, and that we saw them as valuable.”

Dan Galenkamp is a former employee of Diaconal Ministries and we’re excited to have him join our writing team! He is a freelance writer who likes to write about issues of justice and how churches respond to them. He lives with his wife (and two very fluffy cats) in Jordan Station, ON.


Deacon’s – Don’t Go It Alone!

For deacons, when it comes to getting to know your neighbourhood and engaging with your community, it can be difficult to know where to start. For those who have tried outreach — you know how messy it can be to interact with those who have little experience with a church. There’s no clear-cut way to do it.

If you, your diaconal team or your congregation are feeling stuck — or if you’re wondering if your church is having the right impact in your community — going through a Community Opportunity Scan with Diaconal Ministries may be just what you need! Our team has been involved in diaconal work for decades. We understand the awkwardness and messiness that can come with talking to strangers or those on the margins.

Through a COS, you and your church can discern opportunities to…

  • Create awareness of local issues
  • Engage in community partnerships
  • Evaluate existing programs
  • Begin new initiatives

If that sounds like something you’re looking for, get in touch with our team today. We’d be happy to chat with you and your diaconate! You can also visit our website to look at the Key Elements of a COS or take our quiz to determine if your church is ready!

ENGAGING WITH YOUR COMMUNITY – Part 2; Make Love Your Goal!

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Now while Frankie Goes to Hollywood may get credit for our title above, it actually goes back to a verse in 1 Corinthians 14 (RSV): “Make love your aim…” and the ever-popular verses from the previous chapter as well:

“If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.” (The Message, vs 3-7)

In the Form of Ordination for Elders & Deacons (2016), we read that “Deacons serve by leading and equipping the church to minister to its members and the world in a rich diversity of ministries, awakening compassion, demonstrating mercy, seeking justice, and collaborating with God’s Spirit for the transformation of persons and communities. In imitation of Christ’s mercy, deacons teach us to love God, our neighbors, and the creation with acts of generous sharing, joyful hospitality, thoughtful care, and wise stewardship of all of God’s gifts.”

Did you see it? Did you see that that one, vitally important word? It’s small, but so significant. It’s the word that anchors that entire first paragraph. What is it?

It’s LOVE.

Before we continue talking about engaging with our communities, let’s get one thing straight: if it’s done with the wrong intentions, It. Will. Fail. While this may seem obvious because hey, ‘we love because He first loved us’ and all that good stuff, let’s take a minute to just realign our hearts and minds, and our motives. If churches aren’t creating and executing their ministries out of a place of genuine love and care, people will quickly become ‘problems to solve’ and our ministries will become solely needs-based. Doing the work of a deacon is not about putting people on a conveyor belt and having them go through your “system” in order that they leave a satisfied customer and hopefully never need your help again.

So we’ll say it again, MAKE LOVE YOUR GOAL!

If churches aren’t creating and executing their ministries out of a place of genuine love and care, people will quickly become ‘problems to solve’ and our ministries will become solely needs-based.

Good, so now that we’ve got that straight, let’s move on…

HOW DOES A CHURCH BEGIN ENGAGING WITH THEIR COMMUNITY?

STEP 1: FIND OUT WHERE GOD IS AT WORK!

We’ve said this before and we’ll say it again: in order to effectively reach our community, churches must FIRST see where God is already at work. Yes, folks, this is true: God is, and always has been, moving and working in your community. The beautiful part is that churches get to JOIN HIM!

Take a minute and read (or re-read) our recent blog post entitled “Listening to Our Communities,” where we were reminded HOW to discern and discover where God is moving and working. If we only focus on meeting the needs of those we aim to serve, our ministries will fall flat. Even Jesus didn’t meet every single need. Instead, He remained faithful to the mission God gave Him and followed His Father’s leading, even amongst the pestering of the people and even his own disciples! Jesus took time to get away and ‘check in’ with God, through times of solitude and prayer. Remember that all we do to build God’s kingdom here on earth begins and ends with PRAYER. “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.” 1 John 5:14.

This leads us to our next point.

STEP 2: GET TO KNOW YOUR NEIGHBOURHOOD!

In that post mentioned above, we touched on ways to get to know your community. Sociologist James Hunter writes: “Faithful presence in the world means that Christians are fully present and committed in their spheres of influence, whatever they may be: their families, neighborhoods, voluntary activities, and places of work.” In other words, to faithfully engage the world means we must be fully present within it. Every church has a unique location – within a city and, even more specifically, in a particular neighbourhood in that city. If we look close enough and pay enough attention, churches can discover that most have a well-defined identity and many of the neighbours will have common interests. Showing that your church cares about what’s important to them is one of the best ways to engage with your community. Each church must devote time thinking about what their neighbours value, what they spend their time and resources on, and ways you can build relationships with them through those things.

For example, for churches close to a city’s downtown core, there will likely be events like street fairs, art shows, music festivals, park cleanups, and community yard sales that draw the community together. Churches in these neighbourhoods could engage with their neighbours by having church members volunteer for these events, host booths, allow attenders to use your parking lot or washroom facilities, or be part of the planning or committee meetings. This could also open up the door to invite the community to some evangelistic-type events at special times of the year, like Christmas!

If your church is in a lower-income area, your neighbours’ biggest concerns are likely to be some of their most basic needs: food, shelter, jobs, transportation, education. Your members might help meet some of these needs, and thereby gain neighbours’ trust and attention, through soup kitchens, clothes closets, literacy programs, and such.

Churches that find themselves in the suburbs surrounded by lots of young families may find their neighbours’ lives revolve around their kids. Churches here may want to host some events throughout the year that provide activities for the kids and expose neighbours to the gospel. Vacation Bible School, an annual Easter Egg Hunt or a free Community Picnic could provide opportunities to not only get to know your neighbours, but for these people to get to know you/your church and start building relationships.

Engaging with your community will need both strategy and effort, especially when your church’s members don’t necessarily live there. Finding ways to show your neighbours that your church cares about the same things as they do will help you build long-lasting and genuine relationships with your neighbours. This is absolutely essential if your church is going to make an impact in your surrounding community.

Showing that your church cares about what’s important to your neighbours is one of the best ways to engage with your community.

These first 2 steps are echoed in the story we posted last week about Meadowlands Church in Ancaster. This church desperately wanted to engage with their immediate neighbourhood but were having trouble finding common ground with them. It wasn’t until they started praying to God, intentionally and specifically, that a window of opportunity opened up. God’s answer to their prayer was nothing they would have ever guessed or imagined themselves, but that really shouldn’t surprise us, should it? In the Bible we see God do this time and time again, and perhaps you’ve experienced this in your own personal life too. When we say “Yes” to God, we don’t always know where He’ll lead us, BUT we know He will guide and sustain us. (Psalm 55:4) Take a minute to read their story and how God is working in them and through them to reach their neighbourhood in Ancaster. It’s important to note that Meadowlands’s goal isn’t to just ‘fix the problem’ of vandalism, which they likely couldn’t do anyway. That’s the best part of this story: instead of letting that stop them, they have decided that it would be more important and impactful to simply bring the surrounding neighbours together to show them that the church CARES about what they care about and that they want to work together for a better community!

They’ve made LOVE their goal! 😀

STEP 3: GET DOWN TO BUSINESS

Perhaps you are like Meadowlands Church and you are having trouble finding where God could be opening doors or understanding what is really important to your surrounding community. In order to assist churches, Diaconal Ministries Canada has developed a hands-on, practical tool called a Community Opportunity Scan (COS). A COS is a comprehensive process of discovery that will open doors to exciting possibilities for churches to engage in their communities. First and foremost, a COS is an exercise in LISTENING and DISCERNING; it will not only identify needs, it will also affirm the unique gifts and assets in the community and in the church. Through a COS, churches will get to know the people, organizations, resources and needs of their community first-hand. With this information churches can discern opportunities to…

  • Create awareness of local issues
  • Engage in community partnerships
  • Evaluate existing programs
  • Begin new initiatives

Churches can explore Diaconal Ministry Canada’s COS Tools and Resources page on their website and discover how they can begin to learn more about their own church neighbourhood and community. DMC is able to provide support and consultation to churches conducting a COS. Beyond this, churches that are ready to start or grow a new community ministry can receive additional funding, consultation and resources when they apply to become an Operation Manna Partner.

What About YOUR Church?

Where is your church at in the journey of engaging with your community? Have you just begun to seek where God is at work? Have you started praying intentionally for God to open up doors? Does this work get ‘assigned’ to a committee in your church or are all of your members on board with living missionally? Has your church done a COS and it’s gone nowhere and you need a re-boot or some help? Has your church done a COS and now you are ready to get down to business but you need help? Does your diaconate struggle with animating your congregation to go out and love their neighbours?

Share your stories and questions with us – we are HERE TO SERVE!

DMC and World Renew Collaborate on “Helping Without Hurting” Workshops

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Diaconal Ministries Canada and World Renew have collaborated a number of times to lead an interactive “Helping without Hurting” workshop, most recently in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

At that event, DMC’s Diaconal Ministry Developer (DMD) in that region, Jean deBeer felt that participants “left the workshop enriched and challenged to ask themselves if [the ministry] they were doing or supporting was ultimately something that provided more than just the immediate relief of a perceived need, but actually something that is relationship-building and inclusive to community.”

Jean feels “quite passionate about issues relating to poverty” and was determined to clear any barriers in order to bring the workshop to Saskatoon. She also felt the timing was right. A few years ago, Jean, along with her fellow DMDs, had been given the book When Helping Hurts to read and discuss at the annual DMD gathering.  “It definitely stuck with me,” says Jean. Because of her conversations and meetings as a DMD with the deacons of Bethel CRC and Sonlight CRC, she also perceived that it was the “right time” for them all to learn more about how to address poverty.

World Renew’s Co-director Ida Kaastra-Mutoigo and DMC’s National Director Ron Vanden Brink facilitated the workshop, which was attended by members of the CRC, and the local Mennonite, Catholic and Baptist churches.  Participants were challenged to engage their community, considering assets and not just needs. One church was hoping to take what they learned and do a Community Opportunity Scan. Overall, the workshop was informative and challenging. As Jean put it, “we are all more aware of the need to go beyond providing immediate relief!”

The next workshops are scheduled for March 2, 2017 at Immanuel Christian Reformed Church in Langley, BC. and March 4, 2017 at East Hill Community Church in Vernon, B.C.

Following Jesus in the Community: A COS Journey

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From left: Pastor Dean Kurpjuweit (NEXT Christian Community), Pastor John Luth (Christian Reformed Church of St. Albert), Pastor James Ravenscroft (St. Albert United)

In the spring and summer of 2012, Christian Reformed Church of St. Albert (AB) members began a project to discern how Jesus might be leading us in our community.  The thought of even conducting a Community Opportunity Scan (COS) by ourselves was daunting, so we invited two neighbouring churches (NEXT Christian Community and St. Albert United) to join us.

We developed three inter-church volunteer teams who interviewed a combined total of 14 community leaders and agency staff.  Interview summaries were collated and a final report was written for the three churches. *Another church heard about the COS and did their own community survey in their neighbourhood.

The COS helped us to appreciate the many people in our community who work hard each day to make life better for others.   It helped us to identify themes (mental illness,  housing costs, loneliness) that can help shape our ministries.  And, it revealed a great need in our community, namely the need for a place where those who are dying and their families may receive the medical care and support they need near the end of life.

As three congregations, we recognized that a project of this size was beyond us.  But, we also said that if we had gone into this looking to follow Jesus, we should at least take the next step.  And that is all we have done.   We have sensed strongly that God has been leading the way for us.

An initial meeting for those interested was held at our local hospital in June of 2013, followed by a September meeting and an October town hall meeting to raise awareness and recruit volunteers.  Our local newspaper (St. Albert Gazette) has been instrumental in promoting the cause in our community.  Civic and provincial politicians have also been very helpful.  People have contacted us asking how they could be involved, how they could help, how they could give financially.

To date a Steering Committee has been formed, made up of members from a range of churches and from the community.  The Steering Committee’s mission has been defined:  “Our mission is to establish a space for enhanced compassionate end of life care for community members and their loved ones.”  Five working groups have specific tasks.    We are pursuing incorporation as a society and charitable status.  We have worked hard to maintain contact and communication with key groups in our community.

We hope to learn soon just what shape the project will take, but we are confident the Lord will continue to lead this work in our community.

Written by John Luth, pastor, Christian Reformed Church of St. Albert

Want to learn more about a Community Opportunity Scan? Free resources and guidance are available from DMC.