Listening That Leads to Easter Hope
By Bryan Tener
As we journey through Lent and Easter, we are reminded of the promise and power of God’s love for life and the hope that it offers to all of creation. The Easter season is a great opportunity to offer the message of hope and renewal beyond the church walls and engage deeply with our local communities. As followers of Jesus who are growing closer to God as we deepen our discipleship, we understand that there are many people within our local congregations who are uniquely positioned to help bring meaningful change by listening to the voices of our neighbors. As you think about your congregation and your community, do people desire to extend God’s love beyond the walls in ways that create relationships, widen the community, and deepen discipleship? What challenges and issues is your community experiencing and how might the promise of life and hope address those challenges and issues? Community listening is one way to identify those challenges, to hear and learn about the gifts and strengths of those in the community, and to discern how the church can partner with the community to fill gaps in what needs are met. The church can create space for people to experience a compassionate community that is focused on creating life-giving change.
A place to begin communal listening is by identifying a diverse range of people to engage with. Look for:
- Local business owners: They have a unique perspective on the community's economy and its needs.
- School teachers and administrators: They can provide insights into the lives of families and children in the community.
- Healthcare workers: They understand the health challenges in the community and gaps in services.
- Seniors: They offer a wealth of knowledge about the community's history and its changes.
- Young people: They can share fresh perspectives and emerging needs.
- Community leaders, activists, and nonprofit service providers: They are often deeply involved in addressing community issues.
- Members of local organizations and clubs like Kiwanis, the Lions Club, or young professional organizations: They can provide insights into ongoing community efforts and needs.
- Those who receive services to fill needs: They can provide insight into what needs go unmet, what gaps are left by service providers, and what gifts and strengths they can offer to the community as well.
As you gather your list of leaders and people, categorize them and consider whether you will arrange to meet at the church or off-site. Will the people from the community meet with a team of listeners from the church, or will the team be sent out in small numbers? Whom does your church already serve— maybe through a food pantry or another organization? Are there ways you could create a time for listening in conversations as your church serves?
As you interview diverse people, have some questions ready to ask. Questions like the following can help guide the conversations.
- What about the community do you most enjoy? What are you excited about?
- What are your main concerns? What keeps you up at night?
- What are the unmet needs in this community?
- How could people work together to improve the community? Where is this happening already?
Expand your understanding with other questions like:
- One thing people need to know about this community is ________.
- What are your experiences with _____ in this community? [Fill in the specific issue.]
- What changes have you seen in the community?
- What are the best things that have happened in the community over the past year?
- What local groups or organizations have you been involved with?
- Who else should we be talking with?
For specific information on issues like students, seniors, housing, or mental health, ask:
- What are challenges here related to_____?
- What is one thing that could make a difference for _____?
- What suggestions do you have for anyone wanting to get involved with _____?
- Who else is working on _____?
- Whom do you know that might share their experiences or expertise with _____?
Three Tips for Effective Listening
- Adopt a listening posture: Approach each conversation with curiosity, openness, and respect. Your goal is to understand, not to respond or solve a problem immediately.
- Document your discoveries: Keep detailed notes of contacts, key information, and main ideas. Regularly meet with your leadership team to compare notes and identify patterns.
- Uncover themes and insights: Look for repeated concerns, standout needs, and ideas that generate energy. These will guide your community engagement strategy.
After you’ve gathered the data, spend time reflecting with your team and your congregation. Through prayer, listening to the experience of those who led interviews, and discerning through the data, begin to listen for where God might be calling the congregation to go. Share stories and themes from your listening sessions during worship services, meetings, small groups, Sunday school classes, and other ways. Highlight the places where community needs and the gifts within your congregation intersect. Where does your leadership see alignment and connection points between the church and the community, and where do you see excitement in people’s faces as they hear, reflect, and discern? Are these the connection points in which new life and resurrection are lived out, where hope grows, and where love is experienced in ways that draw people closer to God and one another? If so, what will the church’s next step be that begins to connect the congregation with the community? Through intentional listening and engagement, we can live into the Easter promise of hope and transformation, creating space so that both congregations and communities work together toward God’s preferred future.