Four Steps to Helping Your Community

Do you ever wonder what you can do to make a difference in your community? As in, what action can you take that will create positive change?

Step 1: Hang around some people.

People spending time together is the core of an essential resource for healthy communities. Sociologists call it social capital. Most people call it being involved, hanging out, serving, attending, joining.

community-working-togetherAny kind of activity people do together builds social connections. Having friends for dinner, going to church, voting, attending public meetings, chatting with neighbors.

Strong social capital in a community is connected with better life for everyone in that community. If lots of other people go to school board meetings and speak up for the needs of families, everyone in the community benefits from better schools — whether they attend meetings or not.

Step 2: Turn off your TV.

The only activity correlated with shrinking social capital is watching television. Research shows that more time spent watching tv = weaker social connection.

Between 1965 and 1995 we gained an average of 6 hours a week in added leisure time and we spent almost all six of those hours watching TV.* What could happen if we all spent a few of those hours together?

Step 3: Volunteer.

Recently my church started hosting clients from nearby homeless shelter for showers early in the morning.

volunteering-is-democracyEvery weekday morning, someone from our church opens the building. A van arrives with about 10 people who come in to use the showers. While they are waiting, we drink coffee, introduce ourselves, chat, maybe look at the newspaper. We have shared prayer requests, baseball scores, stories about our children, plans for the day, and quiet moments sitting in folding chairs.

The showers are important. The introductions, conversations, shared experience even more so. The world, and my understanding of it, grows a little bit when I get to know my neighbors experiencing homelessness. If we pass each other on the street, we will see each other as friends.

Step 4: See the change.

The change I see is in my heart and in my perspective. Jesus tells us to love our neighbors as ourselves. It’s hard to love a neighbor I’ve never met.

When I see life from the perspective of someone whose life is different from mine, I shift just a little bit in my understanding of justice. I start to think and pray about how to organize our community to meet the needs of people who have stable housing and people who do not have stable housing.

It’s subtle, gradual, and essential to lasting change. I believe the church needs to invest deeply in this kind of change.

*From Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community (2000) by Robert D. Putnam.