Churches who want to respond to the real needs of their community as a whole, rather than as individuals, need to understand the common experiences and priorities of those who are suffering in the local community. Sometimes this may involve dealing with very sensitive issues that people rarely talk about openly. Church leaders or members may assume they understand the problems of their local community, but assuming is not the same as knowing. We must listen to those who are suffering in order to understand their situation.
Agree on a list of questions that will help to find out as much as possible about problems within the local community. Help members practise using facilitation skills. Then encourage them to talk to different groups of people, particularly people whose views are often ignored – such as women, children, older people and people with disabilities – and ask what would help improve their lives. Government statistics, surveys, school attendance figures and health concerns at clinics are examples of useful background information.
Plan a meeting to share the findings with all church members. Allow time for them to reflect on possible responses the church could make. Sermons, Bible studies and role play can help people consider their responses.