In 2020 the Ashland session was hoping to explore our future vision with outreach in our community. Because of the pandemic, this process stalled, but we are hoping to reengage this year. We know that our faith mandates us to care for our neighbor, but it is hard to do that when we don’t know who our neighbor is or what their needs might be. Ashland has long been a church that walks with people on their journey, and the community engagement process is no different.
What is Community Engagement?
The word mission is fraught. It conjures images of white churches going into other people’s countries or neighborhoods to “help” the residents and business owners who live and work there.
What if we started thinking of “mission” as community engagement? A more descriptive term, community engagement, is exactly what it says – engaging with your community.
For churches, this means shifting the theology and practice of mission away from how we have thought about and practiced it and toward a more engagement-focused model. Many churches organize their mission by designating a portion of the annual budget to be used to support mission endeavors. This budget falls under the purview of a mission committee, which meets regularly to decide how to spend the money.
A community engagement-focused culture of mission shifts away from budgets and committees to investing in building relationships in your community outside your building. It moves toward listening to neighbors, partners, local small businesses, other nearby faith communities, etc., to build trust and find out what they care about. Community engagement prioritizes relationships, and the church’s public witness and action flow naturally from there.
- If your congregation has invested in getting to know the ESAL teachers and the
- principal and guidance counselor at your local elementary school, if there were ICE raids in the local community or some other crisis related to undocumented families living in your local area, your church would be able to very naturally show up at the school and ask how you could support undocumented students.
- If your congregation has spent time meeting with your neighbors and getting to know the neighborhood association, when a family in the neighborhood loses a child to death by suicide, your congregation can show up to provide pastoral care, food, etc.
- If your congregation has spent time identifying that the common shared interest among neighbors, businesses, schools, etc., is a love of and concern for the environment, you may be able to gather all other disparate groups and people and together work for ecological justice in your neighborhood.