COS

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!

Listening to Our Communities

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As mentioned in our previous blog post, New Month… Same Theme!, we’ll continue looking at listening this month, and in particular, listening to our COMMUNITIES. But perhaps we need to first name what we envision when we hear those words. What does listening to our community LOOK like? Sitting in the mall food court and eavesdropping to the table next to you? Listening to the local radio station while you cook dinner at home? Following your mayor’s or local MPP’s Twitter feed? Spying on your neighbours?

While these may be good suggestions and may prove helpful (well, all except the last one!!!), this likely isn’t going to help you get to know your city or the neighbourhoods within it. In our last blog post, we posed a few questions we hope you’ve had some time to ponder:

  • What are ways your diaconate actively listens to your community?
  • How does your church engage with the people in your neighbourhoods in order to get to know them better?
  • How do you, as deacons, take time to discover where God is at work in your city so that you can transform communities for Christ?

Hmmm, what was that last one? How do you, as deacons, take time to discover where God is at work in your city so that you can transform communities for Christ? There is a lot in there so let’s pick that one apart for a minute.

TAKE TIME – This means intentionally setting time aside to listen and learn.

DISCOVER – This means acknowledging you likely don’t know the whole story! Remember how we said listening can lead to understanding? Why not re-read our post on why listening is so important and our Top 10 Things to Know in Order to Listen Well for a minute before you move on 😉

WHERE GOD IS AT WORK – Perhaps you thought this was all about YOU! Well, it ain’t. All of what you do as deacons is about seeing where God is at work and joining HIM! Perhaps you’ve never heard that before. Perhaps you find that a bit freeing! Takes the pressure off a bit, eh?

Yes folks, God is, and always has been, moving and working in your community. The beautiful part is that we get to JOIN HIM! So now if that’s true, how do we know what He’s up to?

Discovering Where God is at Already at Work

Let’s touch on some of the best ways to discern and discover where God is moving and working:

  1. Prayer-Walking: In his book “Why Pray”, Dr. John DeVries reminds believers that prayer is an exciting and powerful privilege! He shows us that prayer is simply talking with God and it can lead to a deepened relationship of greater love and trust with our Heavenly Father. In his explanation of prayer, he compares it to a young boy riding on his grandfather’s lap as they ride the tractor around his grandparent’s farm. He says, “Prayer is the dependent relationship in which I sit on the lap of my heavenly Father and put my hand on His as He steers the tractor. After all, He not only owns and drives the tractor, but He also owns the farm!” Prayer Walking can be an important part of joining God on His mission. As one author put it, it’s taking the church to people, not taking people to the church. Prayer walking is a way we put feet to our prayers, or as some will say, praying on-site with insight. It can help us pray with open eyes, literally! In order to equip you and your churches, check out this valuable resource for your diaconates on what Prayer-Walking is – and isn’t! As Dr. DeVries continues, he reminds us: The fields that are ripe for harvest are God’s. He owns the tractor, and He knows where to plow. Only when we, like little children, climb into God’s lap in prayer, feel His arms of love around us, and experience the security of having our hands on His while He guides the steering wheel—only then will missions move!” [emphasis mine] Prayer-Walking is a beautiful and powerful way we can pray with hope for our cities!
  2. Attend or Host a Community Prayer Meeting: Gathering a group of people from inside and outside your church who all want to build up and bless their city has tremendous power! (Proverbs 11:11) What a wonderful way to celebrate unity among believers and non-believers, especially in these times when divisions seem to creep in so easily and quickly. Not only is it a chance to learn more about your community but you will also experience growth, both spiritually and personally. “While you are investing in God’s work, you are enlisting others to advance God’s work on earth” (Corinne Gatti). Imagine that! God will bless those efforts to do even more than we can imagine!
  3. Get Involved and Stay Informed: “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matt. 5:13–16) “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.’ As followers of Jesus, we are called to a mission of engagement in, not withdrawal from, the broader world. To faithfully engage the world means we must be fully present within it” (Tom Nelson, article: “To Engage the World Means Being Present in It”). So start reading your local newspaper in order to follow municipal and regional affairs. Or why not volunteer/get involved in a local non-profit. It won’t take long before you discover where God is opening up doors for you and your church.
  4. Conduct a Community Opportunity Scan! For churches that are ready to see their relationship with their neighbours in a new way, DMC has developed a Community Opportunity Scan (COS). A COS is a comprehensive process of discovery which can lead to exciting possibilities! Churches can get to know the people, organizations, resources and needs of their community first-hand and more importantly, they can see where God is already at work!

So let’s get back to our original questions… What are ways your diaconate is actively listening to your community? How is your church intentionally engaging with the people in your neighbourhoods in order to get to know them? How are you, as deacons, taking time to discover where God is at work in your city so that you can transform communities for Christ??

Churches and diaconates across Canada are in different stages of this “listening” journey. We at DMC are excited to hear their stories and we’ll be sharing a few in the weeks to come. Some are beginning to practice Prayer-Walking in various neighbourhoods in their city; some are clearly listening and paying close attention to where God is at work and what is happening in and around their church and then DOING SOMETHING about it through advocacy; some are beginning the COS process; and others are now moving on to see if an Operation Manna partnership will help them either start or grow a ministry in order to reach out into their community with the love of Christ!

No matter where your church/diaconate is in their journey, if you have any questions or need further guidance, we encourage you to get in touch with one of our Regional Ministry Developers and they’d love to speak with you! You can also check out our resources and tools online.


But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.

1 Corinthians 15:57-58


 

Church Holds First “Serve Saturday”

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Members of Brighton Fellowship CRC (BFCRC) are ready to tackle some yardwork for a local senior at their first “Serve Saturday” event.

This past weekend, a total of 60 participants came out bright and early on Saturday morning for Brighton Fellowship CRC’s (BFCRC) first-ever “Serve Saturday”. Members of all ages were encouraged by the Diaconate of BFCRC to come and help out some local seniors, both inside and outside their congregation, with their fall clean-up. The morning began at 8am with a devotion and prayer followed by participants enjoying a delicious breakfast. Groups and worksites had already been formed prior to the morning and by 8:40am, everyone was off and ready to get to work.

Roxanne Ewing, Chair of Deacons at BFCRC, said the idea to hold a “Serve Saturday” was primarily inspired by BFCRC being a host church for a SERVE Youth Mission Trip. This is a program run by Youth Unlimited who works with local churches to help them share the love of Christ with those in their own backyards. The week-long mission trip welcomes teens and youth leaders from across North America. Work sites are arranged for each day, lending assistance to various community agencies and individuals. The feedback from those who received assistance from these SERVE groups over the past 3 years in Brighton was tremendous. After the week was over, many would ask the church, “Hey, where did all those wonderful teenagers go to?”

This got the Deacons at BFCRC thinking. How could they take the concept of a SERVE week and make it a part of their own church’s regular rhythm? They understood that this would not only be a practical way to help people inside and outside their church walls, but also build on the relationships that began with the SERVE groups. It also fit well with their mission to “show love, kindness and mercy to all members of BFCRC and surrounding community.”

The Mission Statement of the Diaconate of BFCRC

One of the key reasons the Deacons decided to focus their efforts on seniors was because of a Community Opportunity Scan that the church completed a few years ago when they were doing some re-Visioning as a church. One of the discoveries made was the large amount of seniors living in the Brighton area.

Afterwards, Roxanne said they “had an amazing day!!! The feedback was very positive…. Those we served… were blessed and overwhelmed with gratitude; some even brought to tears…. It was [also] quite a buzz the next morning in church!!! Everyone is looking forward to doing this again and I think this will be contagious!!”

Moving forward, it is the hope of the diaconate to hold another Serve Saturday in the Spring. It is through these small but intentional steps that as a diaconate and church, they hope to “show the love of Jesus to everyone… with open eyes and a prayerful heart.”

So what about YOUR church?

Has your diaconate found ways to encourage intergenerational serving, inside or outside your church? What doors has God been opening up for you as a church? Share your story with us!

Need inspiration? Not sure where to start? Contact the DMC Office to speak to one of our staff members and we’d love to chat with you!

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.