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.

Discussion 
  • In what ways are church members already involved in the community? What are the issues that church members feel most comfortable about helping with?
  • What are the issues that local people feel most strongly about?
  • What are others in the community doing to respond to needs? Where are the gaps?
  • Could we learn from other churches or organisations that have been involved in responding to their communities’ needs?
  • Read Nehemiah 1:1-11. Nehemiah was a Jew in exile in a foreign land. Some of the Jews had returned to Judah after their oppressors, the Babylonians, were overthrown by the Assyrians. But many of the Jews felt settled where they were and so remained in exile.
    • What was Nehemiah’s response on hearing the news of his homeland?
    • What does this say about his character?
    • How does this passage challenge us in our relationship with God and in our response to the needs of others?
  • What are the key findings about local issues that have most surprised or shocked church members? Are there ways in which the church could help with these? If so, how?
  • Discuss how these findings can be shared within a church meeting. Suggestions could include:
    • Making posters or charts
    • Acting out a role play
    • Doing a quiz called ‘How well do we know our community?’ where we ask questions about our community. The winner is the person with the most correct answers!
    • Asking a proportion of the church members to stand up to represent the number of people in the community who are unemployed, homeless or suffering from domestic violence, for example.
  • The church family should model the kingdom of God, caring and supporting all church members. In this way, it will provide a powerful witness in the community. Are there also church members who need our help and support?