A Contemplative Approach to Community Assessment
As a bright-eyed, naïve college student, I pushed my church to become more active in local missions. After several years and countless volunteer hours, I realized that we had made little lasting change in our neighbors’ lives. I began to question our approach. Perhaps the world around us wasn’t a set of problems to be fixed. Maybe the church is less equipped to create meaningful social interventions than we think we are. What if the church was called to do more than lackluster social work that unknowingly causes harm?
Thus began a search for a better model of community engagement, a journey which led me to Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) and Fresh Expressions of Church (FxC). As a trained social worker, I noticed that each model begins with a prolonged period of community assessment (ABCD calls this asset-mapping, FxC calls it listening). After a decade of practicing these models—and resourcing others to do so as well—I believe community assessment resources from social sciences and consumer reporting are insufficient for the church.
What we ask influences what we hear, and what we hear influences how we respond. When we conduct a needs assessment, we will identify a need and seek to address that need. When we engage in Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) on a purely social level we will identify strengths in the social connections of the community and build social collaborations upon those strengths. When we draw insights from consumer reporting we identify what our neighbors are consuming. None of this information is inherently bad, but churches are uniquely called to develop spiritual community, and therefore we need to collect spiritual information. If a church is seeking to be a vibrant spiritual community, why are our community assessment strategies void of spirituality? What might it look like to engage in a spiritual approach to ABCD? What would a contemplative ethnography look like?
In the coming weeks of this newsletter, I’ll be developing a spiritual listening plan that draws from ethnography and contemplative spiritual practices. This process will increase your church’s understanding of your neighbors, help discern where God is inviting you to join in expanding the kingdom, and lead to meaningful ministry innovation.
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Great stuff - I'm always curious of how best to apply these social information gathering techniques in the digital world. While the Internet has more than a little bit of analytics collected, little if any relates to a spiritual, or even social, journey.
I think MissionInsite provides some helpful information, but there is nothing like really listening to those in the community not connected to our churches. I look forward to what you share with us about your spiritual listening plan and how that can help us in our setting!