Explaining the Church’s Work to the Community

Church helping community during covid

One of the purposes of a Gospel-centred Church is to engage with the community, or as Jesus put it in Matthew 5:14, to be “salt and light”. The Cinnamon Network helps Churches to do that, by using successful outreach projects as templates which other Churches can follow. But the Network is also testing a new initiative to help quantify the impact our Churches have on our community.

The Cinnamon Faith Action Audit, currently underway in Illawarra, aims to get a good idea of all the work Churches are doing – helping the homeless, running food banks, in prisons, in counselling services, even in teaching English as a second language. Talking to Neil Johnson on Vision’s 20Twenty, Cinnamon National Director Nic Mackay explained that this project is one of the key ways they’re helping the unchurched understand and power of faith.

“The survey has been sent out to over 130 Churches to get feedback on all the wonderful work they’re doing to demonstrate the tangible love of Christ, particularly to those who are experiencing vulnerability, or isolation, or experiencing injustice. We can’t wait to quantify the results, and share that with the broader community.”

The online CFAA survey asks key questions about the three main areas of a Church’s work, which can be anything that serves “the least”, as Jesus asked us to do. “But the important thing that the survey does,” Mackay explained, “is that it asks Churches to put some figures around not only the number of beneficiaries that receive the services they provide, but the number of volunteers and paid staff that are involved in delivering those services.”

“What we do, once we’ve received the results and the submissions for the survey, is that we calculate all of the contribution that’s made in terms of the hours, the time that is put in by the Churches, and we allocate a monetary value to the contribution of Churches across this region.

“But we’ll also have a dollar figure, and say that the contribution of all the local Churches in this area, in this case the Illawarra, is X amount of money.”

“That’s powerful for a number of reasons, and not least that it helps to open conversations, open doors, with government, with other sectors, and perhaps even with people who might have written off the Church, or who may not fully understand the value that the Church brings to the local community.”

When they were building the survey, Cinnamon had to think carefully about which projects to include. If they chose to include religion-based schools, hospitals, childcare centres, colleges and aged care homes, the impact might appear bigger than the public service. But in this case they were guided by the ways Jesus describes community service in the sermon on the mount. In Matthew 25:37-40, He talks about feeding the hungry, and caring for sick people, prisoners and strangers. “as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me”.

“And so we are very much focused on the essence of community service. And some of that has links to education. So for example if Churches are involved in providing after school care for disadvantaged families, so that they can actually afford to work and also have their children attend school, then that’s absolutely counted. But we have decided, on this occasion, not to measure the full activities of Church-lead schools, as amazing and wonderful as those are, because it does blur the line a little bit in terms of what might be considered a community service.”

Of course part of the audit’s job is to address the way the Church’s reputation has diminished over time. Mackay acknowledges that some of this harm has been done by mistakes the Church has made, and suggests we also struggle to explain our achievements in a language that can be understood by the secular world.

“But I think a lot of the fall in the reputation of the Church is undeserved,” he said. “And maybe I think it’s because we are not very good at telling the story that faith is the most powerful force for good, I believe, on the face of the Earth.”

“And so one of the outcomes, we really hope, through this audit in Illawarra and the many to come, is that we will be telling a very different story, perhaps, than Australian’s are used to hearing about the work of the Church, and the roll that we do and need to play increasingly in communities across the country.”

Tune into 20Twenty and join the conversation with Neil Johnson, weekdays on Vision Christian Radio. Click here for your local times.

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