7 ways to effectively engage your community

MISSION NEWS | Sophie Timothy

Sam Hearn grew up in a working class home where he experienced homelessness, mental health problems and witnessed domestic violence. But his life changed when as a teenager he began to get connected with some people from a local church through a breakfast club.

After coming to Christ in his teens, and studying psychology at university, Sam became passionate about “seeing God’s kingdom come” in schools. Living on the Mornington Peninsula in Victoria, he’s worked with local churches spending time listening to local schools. Through those meetings, building trust and relationships, teams of Christians connected to local schools have found ways to bless them according to their needs. In the process, doors and hearts have been opened in new and unexpected ways as churches move from a program mindset (“We bring you to our church”) to a hands-on servant-hearted approach (“How can we help?”).

At the same time Sam and his wife were convicted to move into a community with a large amount of social housing, to be neighbours to people on the margins who were unlikely to walk into a mainstream church. As a result, you are just as likely to find Sam kicking a ball at a local park with some young boys, as sitting have a cuppa with an elderly woman, or down at the beach having a surf with the locals.

Recently, Sam was approached to be director of the Surrender Conference, an annual conference in Melbourne each March focused on “raising up the next generation of Christians to live the radical call of Jesus amongst the margins”. A bold aim, yes, but one they believe can be reached if more people are inspired to live as true disciples of Jesus, who spent most of his time on the margins.

In the lead up to Surrender on March 20-22, which is focused this year on God’s heart for justice, Sam shared with Eternity his 7 ways to effectively engage your community.

  1. Actually into your community and ask: where are the significant spaces in my community? If in a suburb, it might be the school, the sports club, the cafe. In an office, it might be the lunchroom, or in a school it might be the canteen, the school gate, or the P&C. 
  2. When in your community, be present. Make eye contact, be deliberate about spending time in public places and being a friendly face. Let people get to know you. 
  3. Keep your eye out for “people of peace”, people who are already aware of God, and might have even had an encounter with God like Cornelius in Acts 10. These people are often the first connection point in a community and will bring others along with them. 
  4. Expect God to be at work, and in ways you might not expect, or without your help. It’s about being in step with what he’s already doing, not forcing your plan. 
  5. Be patient, consistent and committed. You need to be there in the mundane ordinariness of life, to be a consistent and trusted person. It’s not about big events, it’s about being part of the fabric of a community. Only then will you be there for the “aha” moments. 
  6. Get past a program mindset. In the Bible, when people follow Jesus, they don’t become part of a program, they become part of God’s family. The focus needs to be on relationships, and doing life. Programs can still be helpful, but they shouldn’t be the focus. 
  7. Be open, and public. Push back against our culture of privacy, of keeping to yourself. Invite relationship, have people around, be open about your life. Be vulnerable.

Image courtesy Mosman Council via Flickr.