In preparation for next week’s Lunch & Learn on the topic of how the church can be involved in neighborhood leadership development , we’ll be sharing a couple posts about the church actively engaging the community. The article reviewed here, entitled “Before ‘Transforming’ Your Neighborhood, Talk to Your Neighbors” was originally published by Christianity Today in 2012.
“We learned to talk to each other.”
That’s what Christopher C. Smith identifies as the first step of transformation for his neighborhood of Englewood, near Indianapolis. Long known as a neighborhood in decline with the highest vacant housing rate in the state, Englewood has recently experienced steady improvement largely thanks to the efforts of a local church.
But it came through an unfamiliar – and sometimes uncomfortable – process.
Smith, a member of Englewood Christian Church (which he describes as, “a failed megachurch that spiraled down with the neighborhood,”) says a turning point occurred when several years ago the church replaced a Sunday evening service with a weekly, open conversation on theological topics. Discussions were sometimes heated, but the forum eventually ignited a shared vision and passion for community engagement. This flowed into conversations with neighbors and began turning the wheels for collective action.
Smith says of the process:
“…Our church community began finding new ways to converse with our neighbors. We began to get past both frantic reaction and passive resignation to our neighborhood’s decline, and take meaningful steps that flowed out of the convictions that we found we shared in common. Familiar theological terms started to become more than hollow religious language. We realized our conversations were about more than theological terminology—they were about God’s call for us to enter into the reconciliation and flourishing of our neighborhood.”
Working as individuals and congregations for the good of Oak Cliff, let’s not forget the importance of having theological backbone for our actions, and of gaining a broader understanding and perspective of God’s plan for Oak Cliff by fostering unity.