Setting Aside Assumptions to Listen to Your Context

Throughout my years in ministry, I have seen faith communities (churches and religious non-profit organizations) create and implement well-intentioned and well-informed ministries that met the needs of their wider communities and positively transformed people’s lives. These ministries span from mobile shower units for people experiencing homelessness to intergenerational game nights. Meeting the needs of the wider community did not happen simply because of the faith community’s resources (finances, volunteers, social capital, etc). Needs were met because the faith community devoted time and energy to deeply get to know the context in which they served. 
Community engagement is most effective and sustainable when faith communities lean into contextually-relevant innovation by learning and understanding their wider community’s context, assets, and needs. Each community contains unique facets influenced by the residents, public services, other faith communities, amenities, companies, and businesses that are present. With the unique context in mind, people within the faith community and in the neighborhood can experience transformation through deeper relationships with one another on a personal level. 
Earlier this year, an A.M.E (African Methodist Episcopal) church in the Washington, D.C., area wanted to create a ministry that assisted senior citizens by delivering their medication to them at home. But, after learning and understanding the wider community’s context, they learned that the greater need was for a monthly social activity that would bring together people within the faith community and in the neighborhood. Creating a contextually-relevant ministry required the faith community to set aside their assumptions about medication delivery needs to respond to the need in front of them for an opportunity to engage socially and build relationships. By doing so, the church met people where they were to show God’s love in a more transformative way. 
The Innovation Lab believes that true innovation happens at the intersection of the faith community’s mission, the wider community’s assets, and the community’s needs. When the faith community disconnects from what’s going on in people’s lives around them, they are not attentive nor aware of their context. A faith community must be a partner with the neighborhood, not an institution that tells people what they need. A keen ear, an open heart, and Spirit-led discernment must be part of the faith community’s interaction with the wider community. 
The Innovation Lab’s Theological Innovation Process guides faith communities as they  learn more about the contexts in which they reside. As a result, faith communities create ministries that are tailored to their unique context and informed by the faith community’s mission and culture. Doing so is a tangible means of living out the Greatest Commandment to love God and love neighbor (Matt. 22:37-40). 
Now is the perfect time to learn about your wider community and create contextually-relevant ministry. The Innovation Lab provides resources, curriculum, and training to equip your church or non-profit to do this sacred work. To learn more about the Innovation Lab and the Theological Innovation Process, click here.