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Church? Neighborhood? Start with what you’ve got

Community organizer-scholar will keynote Twin Cities events

What does your congregation need? What does your neighborhood need?
For the moment — never mind. Focus instead on this: What can your congregation and your neighborhood do? What are your capabilities?
That’s the approach of community organizer-turned-scholar Jody Kretzmann of Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. He works primarily with secular communities worldwide, but the same principles apply to congregations. Indeed, aren’t church and neighborhood hand-in-glove?
Kretzmann will keynote a two-day session on asset-based development February 10-11 at Jehovah Lutheran Church (LCMS) in St. Paul. Earlier, February 9, he will lead a session at Northeast Community Lutheran (ELCA) in Minneapolis.

Churches lamenting

Don’t churches want to know more about their neighbors? “We hear churches lamenting that people drive in, that they haven’t connected with the neighborhood,” says the Rev. Deborah Hutterer, executive director of Faith in the City, a Minneapolis-based collaboration co-hosting Kretzmann. “It makes sense that people of faith are initiating these conversations.”
Your congregation may already track its capabilities, Kretzmann believes. But many churches fail to coordinate and act on those gifts, he thinks.
“Needs and problems are absolutely real, and we ought to know about them,” says Kretzmann, director of the Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) Institute at Northwestern University in Evanston. Yet he suggests a different starting point: “What resources do we have to build on?”
Churches are right up there as community building blocks. Can your church host health screening for the neighborhood? Can you spot talents among your soup kitchen habitues?
Nobody can do it alone. “Every community will need partners from the outside,” says Kretzmann, “but the community and its residents must be the most important actors,” leading and managing outside resources.
ABCD Institute dates from the 1980s. Kretzmann, who worked on community organizing in Chicago beginning in the 1970s, co-wrote the basic guide, “Building Communities from the Inside Out,” in 1993.

What’s wrong with people

Don’t people in communities already know their assets? Surprisingly not. A pastor may know that a guy in the second pew is an accountant and might make a fine church treasurer, “but may not know that the person also loves to cook, or loves to shoot baskets, and therefore might be interested in helping coach a sixth-grade basketball team at the local parochial school,” says Kretzmann.
Something called “asset mapping” is common among congregations, he says. But “one of our big frustrations” is that church leaders then fail to coordinate and apply the assets they have discovered.
Kretzmann says social workers are trained to spot what’s wrong with people. That, he argues, can be debilitating. Once people know what’s wrong, he says, “they’re overwhelmed, or back away from acting, or they’re stumped as to what to do.”
Instead, he avers, first find the positives. “To know about needs and problems in a community is also important,” Kretzmann adds, “but to get stuck there is not very productive.”
How do you find assets? “Go at it seriously, but with a good deal of openness to what you’re going to discover,” Kretzmann urges, “and then pay attention to how to mobilize the assets and gifts that you find.”
Everybody needs help from the outside, to be sure, “but the community and its residents must be the most important actors,” says Kretzmann. The locals must lead rebuilding and manage outside as well as inside resources.
Gary Roberts suggests that a congregation interested in asset-based development organize a team of at least five individuals to take the lead — to map assets, listen to neighbors, set strategies and define the ministry. Roberts is executive director with Lutheran Inter-City Network Coalition—Twin Cities. This Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod nonprofit fosters mission and ministry of the church. Its staff can train and coach such efforts.
So this is not about the congregation acting by itself? No. “In fact, it’s essential that the congregation see itself as one of many partners in the neighborhood — all of those assets as Kingdom assets,” says LINC’s Roberts.
Indeed, neighborhood is where it started. People brought their sick into the streets of Jerusalem in the hope that Peter’s shadow might fall upon them as the apostle passed (Acts 5). Where does your congregation’s shadow fall?

For further consideration …

Faith in the City and Lutheran Inter-City Network—Twin Cities will host Northwestern University’s Jody Kretzmann in February. Kretzmann will speak at an event hosted by a group called Seminary of the Streets February 9 at Northeast Community Lutheran Church in Minneapolis. Dinner is at 5:15 p.m. Dinner and the event are free. More information is at Seminary of the Streets is a collaboration between ELCA’s Minneapolis Area Synod and Faith in the City, a coalition of Lutheran institutions.
Then Kretzmann will keynote a two-day session at Jehovah Lutheran in St. Paul, from 6-9 p.m. February 10 and 8 a.m.-noon February 11. Cost is $15 per person, with a followup event April 21. More information is available at or by contacting Faith in the City at or 612/359-6499.

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