Christmas can sometimes feel like a revolving door of activities, events, and services. For many, it’s challenging for a range of personal reasons. We’ve got some suggestions of ways you can pause the treadmill this Christmas and really listen to what’s going on in your community.
1. Make listening a habit
The most effective way of hearing your community is to have good relationships established with individuals and organisations throughout the year. People are (rightly) suspicious of churches who suddenly turn up wanting to give stuff – it looks like they just want to feel good about doing something in the community, rather than having a genuine, ongoing concern for their neighbours. So don’t just turn up with toys for the kids!
Why not invite local workers, such as health visitors, project managers and community police, for a Christmas or New Year lunch, to bless them, get to know them, hear from them about the challenges they face and the hopes they have. This could be the start of a wonderful relationships that you can build on throughout the year.
Co-Head of Church Engagement, Cinnamon Network
Diane loves talking and dreaming together to develop innovative community engagement projects, and is interested in the parallels between developing a community of faith and community development.
2. Listen to what is said and what isn’t
So, what are we listening out for? Jesus gave us a helpful clue; “…words reveal the truths of a person’s heart” (Mt 12:34; Lk 6:45). I find the best way to do this is to ask people “what are your challenges?” But when people aren’t talking, the symptoms can speak for themselves. High unemployment, broken relationships, high number of poor health cases (like mental health), isolation, truancy, crime figures etc. It’s through hearing what these things really mean that we get a better insight into what we can do to help support people.
Church Advisor, Southern England
Mat enjoys helping the churches he supports solve challenges and encourages them in building community and impacting lives.
3. Get out there
As Street Pastors we meet many enjoying the nighttime economy, which the church may not see normally. We provide practical support but most of all we are a listening ear to the homeless or those who want to talk after a drink or three. Some struggle with Christmas. We sit and listen offering practical support of water, foil blankets as well as advice and referrals to local services. It’s a real insight into the challenges people are facing, their perception of the world, and a chance to connect people to the professional services and support.
Operations Manager, Cinnamon Network
When she’s not helping to run Cinnamon’s Incubator Programme, Katy is heavily involved in her local Street Pastors network and is an active member of her local church.
4. Use local media
There are a number of ways that your church can listen and respond to your community this Christmas. Listen to the local radio, read your local paper, visit local social media pages, ask your local neighbourhood policing team, or get in touch with your children services manager.
There are many ways where we can find out what’s going on in our community but it’s important to remember that the need is not the call. What is God asking you as a church to respond to at this time? Think about the resources, assets and time you have right now. Take time to slow down this advent and listen to God as he directs.
Cinnamon Advisor, North of England
Jonny is a passionate advocate for the churches and communities in the north of England and bringing about change and transformation.
5. Be present
Ten years ago, I and a group of friends became frustrated at the state of our local high street. At the same time, we despaired over the lack of a good coffee shop in the area. So, we spent time walking along the street, praying together, before we got hold of an old shop space, converted it, and opened the Corner Coffee House.
It became a refuge for many, as well as a source of hospitality training for many local volunteers, and a “doorstep” to the church. The local police and local councillors met there, we ran a shopkeepers’ forum. A lot of customers became friends, some joined the church, some joined other churches. The experience has given us a taste of what is possible in the community, and how church can be a force for change within the neighbourhood.
Communications Officer, Cinnamon Network
David oversees Cinnamon’s social media and website presence. He also runs his own company which conducts social research, as well as training, web development and film making.
6. Community starts at home
Effective community work should come as an outflowing from our own personal lives. Through cultivating relationships with our family, friends, colleagues and neighbours, we can get more clearer authentic ways to build relationships that count. To help community grow, there are a few things that help them become healthy. Being authentic (be yourself), cultivate environments of celebration, encouragement and gratitude and most of all, let kindness be a normal habit that seeps into all areas of your life
Church Advisor, Southern England
Mat enjoys helping the churches he supports solve challenges and encourage them in building community and impacting lives.