How do we discern how God is working in a community today?
The Nine Signs of a Transforming Community
Reproducing, Transformational Communities of Jesus-Followers
A transforming urban poor community has many groups of 5-20 people who are worshipping Jesus, studying the Word, serving one another, praying, inviting others into a personal relationship with Jesus, discipling others, developing leaders, becoming change agents in their own community, and planting new communities that do the same.
Botocan Bible Christian Fellowship in Manila, Philippines is planted in the heart of a vibrant urban community. Led by local Filipino leaders, this Jesus community practices a model of discipleship that resonates with the cultural identity and close-proximity of neighbors in Botocan. As a new generation of leaders are developed, the church dreams about planting in other communities and developing a Filipino movement among urban marginalized communities.
"...this Jesus community practices a model of discipleship that resonates with the cultural identity and close-proximity of neighbors in Botocan." Read more.
Increased Civic Participation for the Common Good
Civic participation means local residents are actively involved in the improvement of the community as a whole through increased volunteerism and participation in democratic processes. For example, this could include participation in neighborhood groups, community organizing groups, volunteer activities that serve children, youth, or the elderly of the community, voter registration, etc. When leadership develops from within the community to serve the common good, a society emerges that can no longer be controlled by self-serving political groups.
In Philadelphia, PA, USA, the SP team has worked to strengthen civic participation by building the capacity of neighborhood organizations and forming their own community organizing group. A growing coalition of block captains, local leaders, and programs regularly collaborate in voter-registration, community clean ups, and infrastructure improvement.
"...building the capacity of neighborhood organizations and forming their own Philadelphia community organizing group." Read more.
Increased Civic Participation for the Common Good
While a few urban poor communities offer some educational opportunities, even the best opportunities tend to use an approach that delivers information—rather than engaging learners in ways that help them actually improve their lives. A transforming community offers people affordable educational services that respect the dignity of the learners and increase their ability to reflect on their lives, take action, and improve their career opportunities.
In the Middle East, an urban refugee community is drawing on its own resources to offer life-enriching training at a community center. Community members are invited to develop their own gifts and assets to improve the lives of others. As a result, vital tools in language, psycho-social wellbeing, and civic engagement have spread throughout the community.
"...a Middle Eastern urban refugee community is drawing on its own resources to offer life-enriching training at a community center." Read more.
Wealth At The Bottom
Expanded Opportunities to Achieve Economic Sufficiency
Economic sufficiency in an urban poor community means that more and more people are integrated into the mainstream economy in the city and have the opportunity to provide a living for their families. Rather than sustaining themselves “under the radar” in the informal economy, the urban poor must have access to the resources (capital, training, materials, etc.) of the wider marketplace. This means not only more jobs—but more bridges to middle and upper classes that create opportunities for income growth and greater productivity.
In South Asia, local women organized nearly 120 economic empowerment groups that helped them learn to save money, open bank accounts, and start small businesses. These groups helped them overcome economic marginalization, demonstrate financial solidarity and support to one another, and jumpstart significant economic activity in their region.
"...in South Asia, nearly 120 economic empowerment groups that helped them learn to save money, open bank accounts, and start small businesses." Read more.
Breakthrough To Freedom
A transforming community supports people in the journey to greater freedom and healing. In many communities, traumatic experiences—both individual and communal—strain relationships and lead to destructive patterns like addiction or decreased mental health. At times, the presence of spiritually harmful forces like the occult further hold people in bondage. Through resources for healing and recovery, community members can interrupt harmful patterns and develop their spiritual and psycho-social health. Approaches that are trauma-informed, community-based, and centered on the healing presence of God lead to a breakthrough to freedom. We can apply some existing models of effective programs, but it will take fasting and prayer to create the spiritual environment where those seeking change have a strong enough desire to commit to their lives to it.
In Managua, Nicaragua and Mexico City, Mexico, SP staff have developed a grass-roots holistic healing ministry called Grupos Vidas. The ministry focuses on training community leaders in focused prayer for emotional and spiritual healing. As a result, over 300 community leaders have experienced deeper freedom and gained resources to promote emotional and spiritual health throughout their families and communities.
"...training over 300 Managua and Mexico City community leaders in focused prayer for emotional and spiritual healing." Read more.
Increased Family Health and Well-Being
A transforming community helps families free themselves from domestic violence, sexual abuse, and other destructive patterns. Families in urban marginalized communities have often experienced migration or displacement in arriving to the city. These changes create shifts in culture and values of the older and younger generations. Traumatic experiences strain family relationships and impact future generations. Through support and recovery groups, family social services, and youth development, families have an opportunity to navigate challenging experiences and discover the resources God has given them to thrive as whole families.
In Manila, Philippines, a SP staff trained as a mental health counselor was appointed by the local government to serve and advocate for women and men experiencing domestic violence in the community.
"...serve and advocate for women and men experiencing domestic violence in the Manila community." Read more.
Health For All
Improved Environmental and Community Health
While taking the health of the individual and family seriously, a transforming community also works together to address the physical well-being of the community. Disease prevention, education and direct services that promote public health are crucial parts of an urban poor community that wants to improve the quality of life for its residents. Addressing the disproportionate environmental burdens experienced by urban marginalized communities is vital to community health. Creating clean neighborhoods, green spaces, and healthy environments outside the home are essential elements of a sustainable community.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the SP North Africa team partnered with local textile producers to sew and distribute 3,300 medical grade masks to high-risk community members like healthcare workers, the elderly, and people incarcerated.
"...sew and distribute 3,300 medical grade masks to high-risk North African community members like healthcare workers, the elderly, and people incarcerated." Read more.
Beauty And Creativity
Increased Access to Creative and Artistic Education and Expression
Because we are made in our Creator’s image and likeness, we are endowed with creativity and a love for beauty. In a transforming community, beauty, creativity, and artistic expression flourish on an individual and communal level in a way that serves individuals and the community as a whole. Various arts and forms of beauty and creative expression are used to transform the demeaning ugliness of poverty, to deepen empathy with others, to empower people’s voices, to refine our imaginations, and to create times and spaces for internal reflection, joy, and healing. Through creative expression and the arts, we seek to more truly and clearly see the world as it is, as well as the world as it should be, with God’s shalom and kingdom coming.
In 2021, Servant Partners Press began publishing The Mural, a quarterly arts magazine that elevates creative expression and beauty in our communities around the world. The magazine invites neighbors in marginalized communities to create and share beauty through commissioned pieces and collaborative projects ranging from visual arts and poetry to dance and music. You can view it here.
"...The Mural, a quarterly arts magazine that elevates creative expression and beauty in our communities around the world." Read more.
Systems That Work
Presence of Political, Economic, and Legal Systems that Work for the Poor
Most systems that govern an urban poor community are based on consolidated power that serves the few. A transforming community develops systems that serve everyone, including those who are marginalized and cannot speak for themselves. Transformed political systems seek to include those who do not already have a voice. Transformed economies empower under-resourced neighbors to access capital, materials, and opportunities. Transformed legal systems provide justice to the most vulnerable community members.
The SP team in South Los Angeles, CA, USA organized with Redeemer Community Partnership, a community-based organization and partner ministry, to stop active oil and gas extraction happening in a dense urban neighborhood. With a diverse coalition of community leaders and grass-roots organizations, they reformed racist environmental and zoning policies and won the closure of the drill site.
"...they reformed racist environmental and zoning policies and won the closure of the drill site
in South Los Angeles." Read more.
Read more about the Nine Signs, our strategies and values in the Servant Partners Introduction.