By Jay Van Groningen (Christian Reformed World Relief Committee, 2005)
Communities First is an excellent resource for ministry and community leaders laboring to bring wholeness back to their communities. It is the main text of a comprehensive, practical, and user-friendly curriculum available for purchase as a unit or in individual sections. Written by a team of community ministry practitioners led by Jay Van Gronigen, the Communities First curriculum clearly explains and addresses the key principles of Asset-Based Community Development. To demonstrate these principles, the Communities First Team provides real life examples of individuals and churches working alongside their neighbors to restore families and neighborhoods. Each chapter also contains questions to direct ministry evaluation and steps to make ministries more effective and community-centered. Each chapter of the book (described below) is accompanied by a short workbook by the same name, which can be purchased for those wishing to go through the curriculum with a small group of ministry implementers. The chapters are:
One: The Theology of Development. This chapter describes the foundations of the Christian worldview and how these principles shape our attitudes and actions towards community development.
Two: Through God’s Eyes, With Gods Heart: Building Readiness for Community Ministry. Chapter two challenges churches to see their communities as God sees them and to take action.
Three: Meeting Needs: Moving from Individual Betterment to Individual Development. This chapter addresses the key differences between “relief” ministries and “development” ministries and provides examples of both.
Four: Developing a Community Vision. Here the Communities First Team explains the role and importance of visioning, not only within the church, but with the community.
Five: Case Management: Creating a Plan for Change through Covenantal Commitment. This section explains the importance and role of covenantal relationships in community development. It also provides the reader with vital components for a successful case management ministry.
Six: Community Strengthening. Chapter six addresses key obstacles in building community and suggests solutions that result in stronger communities with a greater resemblance to “shalom,” that vision of the new heavens and the new earth that will be ushered in at the consummation of the Kingdom of God.
Seven: Community Organizing. Here the Communities First team provides ideas for engaging and empowering community members to participate in the strengthening of their communities.
Eight: Justice: Creating Policies, Laws, and Systems that Work for Everyone. This chapter describes how ministry and community leaders can effectively advocate for justice without getting caught up in partisan politics.
In order to help the reader understand these principles and apply them to their church’s ministries, each chapter has an accompanying workbook. These workbooks contain workshop lesson plans, group and individual exercises, inventory checklists, and other resources to better equip churches to understand and serve their communities.
Why does FASTEN recommend this resource?
Communities First is written by an experienced group of church-based practitioners that have been engaged in asset-based community development. The Communities First curriculum is accessible to church leaders just beginning in their journey toward community development, yet also contains information, models, and practical implementation principles that will be useful for church leaders already engaged in community ministry. Perhaps most importantly, the FASTEN constituency will appreciate the book’s emphasis on collaboration, as it leads churches to recognize themselves as one of several assets in the community that can contribute to renewal.