Six Ways to Engage the Community

Congregations can play a role in building stronger communities. Here are six options, drawn from the National Congregations Study (NCS), a nationwide survey conducted every ten years since 1998. The NCS provides data on congregation’s activities, including engagement in the community. The researchers developed six broad categories of community engagement for this survey.

  1. Congregations can provide social services by participating in social service programs, including community development and neighborhood projects. Congregations can offer programs providing food, housing, clothing, homelessness, or health care. They can invite representatives of social service organizations as visiting speakers or hold a group meeting to organize or encourage people to do volunteer work.
  2. Congregations can provide or support education for the community, and not just religious education. Some have their own elementary school or high school, while others have given money to a college, university, or seminary or hosted a professor as visiting speaker. Some congregations hold small groups, educational programs, or mentoring programs whose purpose is education related.
  3. Congregations can participate in dialogue or joint action in religion by holding a group or class to learn about another religion. Some congregations host clergy from another congregation as visiting speakers, or they participate in joint worship with another congregation from a religious tradition different from their own or with a racial or ethnic makeup different from their own.
  4. Congregations can contribute to culture by hiring singers or other musicians to perform at a worship service, or by having visitors view the building’s architecture or artwork. Some congregations organize a group or class to discuss a book other than the Bible. Others organize groups to attend a live musical or theatrical performance together, or they permit outside groups to use the building for rehearsals or performances of musical or theatrical works. Still other congregations invite groups to hold exhibits of paintings, photography, or sculpture in the building.
  5. Congregations can decide as an institution to contribute to the community. This could be achieved by permitting outside groups to use or rent space in the building, or by holding a group or event to create and conduct an assessment of community needs. Some congregations discuss vital community issues such as pollution or other environmental issues, or they discuss race relations in our society.
  6. Though barred by law from supporting specific candidates and political parties, congregations can contribute to politics by holding a group meeting or event to discuss political issues. Likewise, they can organize or participate in efforts to lobby elected officials or take part in a demonstration or march about a public issue or policy. Congregations can also register people to vote, inform them at worship services about opportunities for political activity, or distribute voter guides. Some congregations get a political dialogue going by hosting an elected government official or someone running for office as a visiting speaker.[1]

 

[1] Mark Chaves, “Religious Variations in Public Presence: Evidence from the National Congregations Study,” in The Quiet Hand of God, ed. Robert Wuthnow and John Evans (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002), 108–28.

Photo: Quicksandala, Morguefile license.

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