When you go to the doctor for a medical evaluation, what’s the first thing your doctor does? He checks your vital signs. He looks at your body temperature, heart rate, respiratory rate, blood pressure, and oxygen saturation. If any of these measurements are off, it alerts your doctor that the body isn’t functioning properly and there may be cause for concern or testing.
The word ‘vital’ has different meanings. ‘Vital’ can, like in the example above, be something necessary to keep you alive. If your doctor noticed that you didn’t have a pulse, he wouldn’t need to continue the exam because, well, you’d be dead. Similarly, ‘vital’ can be something that’s absolutely necessary or important like the constitution is vital because it establishes the framework and values for a country. ‘Vital’ can also refer to someone or something full of energy and life. You have friends who radiate joy everywhere they go and with everyone they meet or spring out of bed every morning and bolt out the door with determination and purpose.
A PAINFUL REVELATION
A number of years ago, emerging leaders in Central Arkansas met regularly for a year to connect and better understand the key areas in their community. The topic of one of their meetings was economic development. The meeting began like any other but then took a sharp turn. During the meeting, the presenter that day handed out a “hot off the presses” booklet on Central Arkansas Life. The booklet looked magnificent. Well designed and loaded with information on everything…well, almost everything. Yes, the booklet included information on housing, medical facilities, schools, dining, shopping, and recreational opportunities, but something curious was missing — churches.
As it turned out, it didn’t even occur to the authors of the booklet to include churches. Yes, many churches in the city were doing incredible things and investing time, energy, and resources into the community. However, their efforts remained invisible to the wider community, which was a painful revelation to many leaders in the room that day. Yes, there was a time when churches were deemed vital to the health and flourishing of a community. But times had changed and it was no longer taken for granted that churches are absolutely essential to the community and its flourishing.
CLOSING THE GAP
Sadly, this is the perception of many. Churches don’t seem as relevant or necessary as they had been previously. But that’s only perception and not reality. Churches remain vital to community flourishing because that’s God’s design. Churches are also vital in one of the most important aspects of the community — the family. When churches engage in strengthening families in churches, schools, and their communities, God moves to bring life, growth, and flourishing.
Do you wonder whether that’s really true? Let’s look at the evidence. Statistics show that family and faith are proven ways to close the “achievement gap” in education. In his research, William Jeynes, Professor of Education at California State University, made this remarkable conclusion:
Churches remain vital to community flourishing because that’s God’s design. Churches are also vital in one of the most important aspects of the community — the family.
The phrase “achievement gap” refers to the well-documented discrepancies between the scholastic achievements of African American and Latinos on the one hand and white students on the other. What explains the gap? My meta-analysis revealed that if an African American or Latino student was a person of faith and came from a two biological-parent family, the achievement gap totally disappeared, even when adjusting for socioeconomic status.
JOHN AND MICHAEL
What difference would it make in the community if churches throughout the city were partnering with schools to help their children succeed? What if your church partnered with a local school? Through that partnership, John, a member of the church, meets Michael, a second-grade student, to help him improve his reading proficiency. They meet weekly and over time John’s family and Michael’s family connect on a deeper level.
Tara, Michael’s mother, is a single parent working two jobs to make ends meet for her three children and grandmother. Michael and his family feel love and support from John and his family like never before. Eventually, Tara, Michael, and his younger brothers start attending John’s local church. When they hear the gospel preached, every family member believes it places their faith in Christ. Imagine how different things would be for Michael and his family in this newfound community where they are accepted, loved, and supported.
If this scenario actually happened in your church, do you think more members of your church would be inspired to get involved? Would they want to contribute to that kind of change in their community? Would they sign up to mentor youth in local schools? Would they want to disciple young believers in the essentials of the faith? Would the doors of their homes swing wide open to welcome those from different backgrounds they’ve met through the program?
REBUILDING FLOURISHING FAMILIES
CityChurch Network’s ReBuild Flourishing Families initiative empowers churches to strengthen families:
- In Churches – supporting leaders in developing vision and strategy in the key areas of biblical manhood and womanhood, marriage, and parenting.
- In Schools – developing church/school partnerships that seek to serve families through family support opportunities, youth mentoring, and family-to-family connections
- In the Community – partnering with community-based non-profits to provide extended support for those experiencing trauma such as generational poverty, an unexpected pregnancy, getting out of prison, aging out of foster care, etc.
Healthy families are vital to the community and the Church is God’s plan for developing flourishing families. Family brokenness, educational disadvantages, and racial inequality continue to be the biggest issues facing our communities. Currently, there are churches on the front line, taking the light of Christ into the dark and difficult places. They are helping their neighbors see just how vital the Church and healthy families are to life, growth, and flourishing.
As more churches engage in this effort, we move the needle that much more. One more family rises out of generational poverty. One more marriage that was headed for divorce is saved. One more person no longer clings to his addiction but clings to Jesus. One more young boy finds a mentor who shows him he has what it takes to be a real man. One more woman finds a community that walks with her through her trauma. One more person finds the shelter and support they couldn’t find living on the street. One more church that takes the love and compassion of Jesus to those who need it the most.
Together we can build a flourishing community!