From Scattered Fragments to the Spokes and Hub in a Wheel
Many churches value local connections and partnerships, but, too often, churches and similar faith-based organizations look to make an impact only among their congregations and immediate constituents. My experience is that these two pieces go hand-in-hand. For local churches to broaden their reach and more meaningfully engage in their vision, they must look outside their four walls and engage collaboratively as network weavers.
Churches are naturally a place of connection around shared beliefs and values, but they’re comprised of people with different life experiences and backgrounds. Likewise, individual nonprofits may have unique organizational values and goals, but collectively, they complement each other to serve the full needs of the community.
What if the local church took on the position of network weaver? While fulfilling their congregational mission, what if they also cultivated a larger network of leaders, community groups and organizations to work in unison for greater impact, whether one-time projects or major initiatives around long-term change? The institution of the church has served as a social agent since its founding, and for centuries it was the hub for charity and public welfare (Stefon & Pelikan, 2019).
Times have changed and, around the world, numerous organizations and even government programs now work to address community issues. It’s no longer the church’s role to create and sustain programs, but the church is no less influential or essential in helping the community fully realize these opportunities. Instead, we can champion, elevate and supplement the work already being done.
In my work at Waterstone Community Church (Littleton), we recently partnered with an organization that serves women coming out of sex trafficking. The group helps the victims re-engage in society and offers beauty services and support groups as an expression of their individual value and beauty. Waterstone came alongside their efforts by helping spread the word and providing volunteers to assist in a fundraising event. Meanwhile, as we championed the cause internally at the church, a woman in the congregation, a professional therapist who specializes with women recovering from sexual abuse, became aware and started volunteering her time and expertise.
Church resources include financial contributions, volunteer time, professional connections and expertise as well as, in most cases, a physical building to share. Community organizations often have great vision and already promising networks, but resources are limited and networks can always stand to grow. Even more, well-meaning congregants are often motivated to invest in their communities, but they lack the right connections or know-how to feel confident getting started. Churches can connect people to diverse issues such as homelessness, food insecurity, foster care, mental health and so many more, at scale that the nonprofits alone could never fully achieve.
Going further, as churches talk and partner with other churches, the network and scale will compound across community, regional and denominational lines. Diversity of thought and broadening of connection will not only benefit the church, but also the partnering organizations by creating a greater understanding of the collective community. As Granovetter said, “the more local bridges in a community and the greater their degree, the more cohesive the community and more capable of acting in concert.” (Granovetter 1973, p. 1376).
If the church is still a hub in the community, then community groups are the spokes in the wheel, and more of our time, funding and effort should be committed to supporting and replicating this network model instead of the scattered fragments of connecting across limited paths (Krebs & Holley, p. 5-8).
Next steps for Action:
- Ask about the issues in your community that need to be addressed. Ask inside and outside of your congregation. Look for diverse perspectives.
- Identify who in your community is already working on the issues.
- Build relationships with those influencers. Meet with people from various backgrounds and experiences around the issues.
- Partner with existing initiatives. Join, complement and support what’s already in motion.
- Be the network weaver! Bring broader people, groups and initiatives together to expand the network and scope of impact.
It calls for transformational change, first inside the church, and it won’t happen overnight. But it benefits the entire network as a whole, well beyond our four walls.
Sources & References
A Clovis Experiment in Church Collaboration. (2014). Retrieved from
CityUnite. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://cityunite.org/
Granovetter, M. (1973). The Strength of Weak Ties. American Journal of Sociology, 78(6), 1360-1380. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/2776392
Krebs, V., & Holley, J. (2002-2006). Building Smart Communities through Network Weaving. 5-8. Retrieved from course material https://ucdenver.instructure.com/
Stefon, M., & Pelikan, J. (2019). Church and Social Welfare. In Encyclopedia Britannica.
About the Author: Kylie Watters
Director of Local Engagement, Waterstone Community Church
Kylie’s passion is for cultivating relationships with diverse organizations, helping the local church serve as a critical hub in the nonprofit network and reposition charitable and community efforts around that framework. She is a graduate student at the University of Colorado Denver.