March 23, 2015

Jesus + Community = Changing the World

A few years ago, I went to the monthly meeting of a local environmental group. It was long and tedious, and at the end I wasn’t sure what I should do next to get involved. I never went back.

I eventually got involved in other ways, but I think this is a common experience that people have when they care about a cause but can’t quite figure out how to contribute meaningfully.

Some people, of course, enjoy going to meetings, attending rallies, and writing letters to their senators, but for the rest of us advocacy or activism can be a chore. Engaging people in making change requires a little more than just convincing them our cause is just.

The other day I went to a panel discussion on climate change, and one of the hosts, Curt Collier from the New York Society for Ethical Culture, said, “The stronger the community, the better it is able to tackle environmental issues.”

Now I know the church is not simply an advocacy or environmental organization, but a church cannot follow Jesus without also creating community and trying to change the world for the better. Fortunately, as Collier points out, those things go hand in hand. To create change you don’t just need to make people care, you have to get them connected to each other.

I am much more likely to go to a march if my friends will be there and I’m much more likely to go to a meeting if I know that the other members will need my help. This means that when trying to engage people, church leaders have to create a welcoming and healthy community.

Too often, a domineering leader or a closed group can drive people away. We can lose sight that while the mission may be the main thing, getting people plugged in is the only way to accomplish the mission. To save the planet or feed people who are hungry, we need to attract and connect with not only the hardcore activists but those who might rather be at home reading and need a little extra nudge to show up to that meeting and take on a role.

This requires vigilance and planning. We can ask ourselves a few questions: Will a new person feel welcomed? Will they be engaged, and maybe even have fun? Will it be immediately obvious how they can help? Will they feel that they are needed?

These questions apply to a group trying to save the planet or spread the Gospel. Creating a community in which people feel engaged and connected and useful can make changing the world not so much a chore, but a gift.

Don't miss a blog post! Subscribe via email or RSS, using the grey box on the upper right.