In a recent blog post at the Collective Impact Forum titled “The Problem with Community Outreach,” James Capraro makes a very important distinction.

“In many instances community development efforts start by first identifying problems and then posing solutions. After this initial set of concepts are envisioned, “community outreach” is undertaken – with the best of intentions.

The goal of outreach is to solicit and receive community review and support. This approach runs counter to the trust creation process in that it leads with pre-conceived “solutions” as opposed to listening. It demonstrates that solutions have been created that are important to the “conceivers” (developers, government, architects, planners, etc. . . .) without regard or with less regard to what is meaningful to (individuals in) the community.

Often, impressive communication materials are created to demonstrate the validity of the proposed solution(s). The “impressiveness” of the concept presentation media often leads community members to believe that “those in charge” have already decided to implement the proposed solutions. The proposed solutions seem to be “fait accompli” with the risk of leaving residents to feel inconsequential.”

In our church-based Shift Training we use Luke 10:1-7 as our foundational scripture for how we should engage in the community.  In this passage, Jesus is sending out 70 disciples in pairs and very clearly tells the disciples to take nothing with them.  For the contemporary church, this translates into leaving our programs, events, and assumptions about what the community “needs” behind.

Entering into a community solely for the purpose of listening to what the neighbors themselves care about is a very difficult discipline to learn. That is why I am so thankful to the tools developed by the ABCD institute, specifically the 5 Question Survey.

Last summer we piloted a new approach to community listening utilizing local youth as our “roving listeners.”  What I love about young people is that they seem far more comfortable with the idea of simply listening, with no agenda or preconceived plan.  The pilot was a huge success and this year we will be partnering with congregations to expand the program into at least four neighborhoods.  We are calling this listening effort our “Dream Catcher’s Project” and I can’t wait to share with you all the dreams our teams of young rovers will discover in their own neighborhoods.

Interested in learning more about this project?  Check out these posts:

Community Listening:  The ABCD Starting Line

Finding the Person of Peace

You are Not the Answer: The Practice of Holy Listening

Interested in starting a Dream Catcher’s Project as a part of your Community Development efforts, please email me at Wendy@embracerichmond.org.