How the Church Can and Should Show Up in the Community

If you are a church planter or in a congregation looking for ways to engage holistically and deeply with your local community and you are motivated by the Gospel to do something about economic justice , there is a six session online course for you starting soon.

On October 5, Dave Kresta, author of the well received book Jesus on Main Street: Good News Through Community Economic Development will be teaching Jesus and Economic Justice. The course is sponsored by the v3 Movement, a church planting organization that also runs “marketplace cohorts” of “sustainable missional faith communities” helping them start businesses that contribute social good, and providing services to local neighborhoods. The Ormond Center is promoting Kresta’s class. Ormond “fosters the imagination, will, and ability of congregations and communities to be agents of thriving.”

Kresta wrote Jesus on Main Street because there was no book that explained how a congregation could be involved in a practical way in its local economy, linking the Gospel to the well established methodology of community economic development that practitioners have proven works over the last 40 years.

It’s not a book that explains why people of faith should be engaged in their local economy; it’s for those who get it and want to know what to do. “We are called to go after the lost sheep. I think Christians need to show up because God’s already there. God cares about those lost sheep, the people falling through the cracks,” Kresta says.

Kresta’s method starts with the realization that the church  is not at the center of the community; instead, as they do an assessment of their community and its problems – the things falling through the cracks – they should also look for people and groups already doing the work of economic justice and join them.

Kresta understands that church buildings are one of the main assets that churches have to offer; the average church building is only occupied about nine percent of the time from 9-5 every day. so a congregation’s space is a key to what it can do. “But they don’t just need to do another coffee shop; is there really a need for one?”

Instead he offers examples of congregations launching co working spaces, making spaces for people to build things, setting up incubators for startups, and workforce development classes where people get trained. He cited an example of a church in Michigan that has a large program training formerly incarcerated people how to be home health workers with homebound seniors. Others are renovating wings of their facilities to be shared office space for local non profits.

“You need to find what the economic drivers are in your local economy and see who your congregation is and how it can be involved, “Kresta said.

The church can also uses its local social capital for justice in the public sector, Kresta said, mentioning congregations that encouraged their cities to sign accountable development agreements with big companies coming in to a community so that the companies don’t just hire white people, but agree to hire and train people from marginalized communities. That means the church showing up at zoning and planning meetings on behalf of the poor and using its privilege to make sure the benefits from traditional economic development are shared across race, class, and neighborhoods, playing the role of a community organizer.

One of the key points of the class is for clergy and lay church leaders (often type A personalities ready to take action or launch a program) to stop and listen, to learn what the community needs, what people in marginalized neighborhoods see as problems and are already working on. “The church is not the center. That’s one of my key takeaways from my research; the church needs to join and play a part, and do what it does best alongside people in the community,” Kresta said.