7 CREATIVE MODELS FOR COMMUNITY MINISTRY by Joy Skjegstad
Joy Skjegstad's new book, 7 Creative Models for Community Ministry (Judson Press), is a nimble, practical manual for churches investigating or birthing a community-based ministry. She demonstrates an extensive portfolio of experience in the nonprofit sector and church-based ministry and blends this with case studies of various community organizations to form the foundation of this book.
Her definition of community is a fairly common one in the church context, defining it as being active "outside its four walls" through bridges of community ministry. As the title promises, the book describes seven creative models for community ministry: donating, volunteering, partnering, advocacy, community organizing, developing a program, and creating a formal church-based nonprofit. Each brings a plain and readable understanding of core methods of community work. The models are fairly well-known and tested methods for community ministry, but packaging them into one book creates a helpful guide to processes churches can use in assessing ways they can best engage their neighborhood. Skjegstad provides an adequate bibliography for those desiring more in-depth reading and study on the models and methods.
The models take a conservative approach in how they are applied and carry basic assumptions that are true for some but not for all. For instance, in advocating for social change, Skjegstad advises readers to "steer clear of controversial issues" in order to maintain a communal approach that is non-offensive. The weakness of this approach is that it downplays the power of radical organizing, which mobilizes social angst and propels people to challenge the powers that be. She also gives the impression that long-term approaches should promoted, over short-term strategies. While long-term solutions are the goal, short-term strategies can contribute to a long-term developmental strategy. A strong reaction to the immediate issues is often necessary in community work.
The decision-making process for what a church is to do is based on a previous listening process in order to unearth what the community needs. Though not discounting more quantitative approaches such as demographic analysis or geographic mapping, there is an emphasis on face-to-face interviews, focus groups, and participant observation, much like what a professional social researcher would incorporate in a qualitative ethnographic study or grounded theory. What this listening process may lack in technical understanding for the professional researcher, it gains in presenting a simple, entry-level engagement of community learning and process of questioning for the popular audience.
The book reflects Skjegstad's Midwestern culture, strongly influenced by a communal mindset about how the church functions. Lost in this analysis is the space for vision-driven, single-focused pioneers who are driven to risk and want to get started. Her approach is deliberate, methodical, committee-driven, and networked, and all of the models are driven by an assumption that people will want to work together. Most of the case studies are from Minnesota, and the book is imbued with a Scandinavian, covenantal self-understanding of community ministry. Throughout, the reader has the sense that effective ministry work emanates from team-based collaboration and partnership. Whether the communal, long-term tone of the book will translate into high-paced, fast-moving, and more aggressive urban societies remains to be seen, though the author makes some attempt in the case studies to broaden out beyond Minneapolis and its environs.
Surprisingly, for a book aimed at Christian audiences, Skjegstad offers very little biblical or theological integration and almost no attempt at probing how community ministry was modeled in the Bible. Each section begins with a mini-devotional and a theme verse to frame the chapters into a Christian context, but they are essentially bereft of serious Christian integration, with the case studies serving as a sort of proofing that the models will work within a Christian context. However, this apparent weakness may be an unintentional strength, as it allows each congregation, pastor, or Christian leader to incorporate their own theological underpinnings in presenting the core material.
The strongest chapter in the book is the cogent and concise treatment of fundraising, one of the most intimidating factors for generating passion for any new venture. As a quick study, it provides very valid hints on how to get started. The chapter on "doing ministry in a small church" is a compelling consideration of micro-ministry as a unique contribution that small groups bring to community development. The description of large church buildings with small congregations opens questions of the use of real estate for the purposes of community ministry not cloistered Christianity within the liturgy.
Overall, the book serves as a practical introductory overview for individuals and churches considering ways to engage their neighborhoods. It is not an academic or professional text, and there are several complex elements and issues that are given cursory treatment. Skjegstad herself admits that her chapters on public policy and incorporating a nonprofit need further research. Despite what it lacks in professional detail and biblical integration, however, it succeeds in presenting a usable workbook for the popular Christian audience.
Hans Tokke Ph.D. is an urban sociologist, professor, and director of the NonProfit Management Program at Eastern University's School of Leadership and Development (Campolo College of Graduate and Professional Studies), to which he brings over 25 years experience in teaching and practice in the nonprofit sector. He has served in Vancouver, B.C., and New York City as a director of urban ministries and programs with Campus Crusade for Christ, Here's Life Inner City, and the Alder Foundation, focusing on inner-city youth.