Services for vulnerable families in the UK are being squeezed at a time of unprecedented demand.
Churches are particularly well placed to offer meaningful support but there are, of course, significant barriers to growing this work, such as lack of volunteers, finances and in-depth understanding.
Both the scale of need in the community and the pressure on resources within churches call for a new way of thinking and working: sharing, collaborating and reshaping the ways that churches and other organisations relate to each other.
Here are four top tips for UK churches to reach out and become meaningful partners with others.
What are the big needs facing children and families in your community? What is already being done? Where are the significant gaps? For example, research projects by Fusion Youth and Community UK have become effective tools in informing strategy for action in communities across the UK.
2. CONNECT WITH OTHERS
With a clear picture of needs and opportunities in mind, make contact with others who could be involved in meeting those needs. No single church, group or organisation will be able to do everything. Talk to each other, visit programmes run by other churches and other organisations (maybe Christian or not). A recent conference in Oxford facilitated fresh conversations between churches. Participants were excited by the potential to do new work together.
3. FIND COMMON GROUND
As you talk with others, identify overlap between programmes in terms of areas like families and timetables. Look for opportunities to share – resources, volunteers, facilities, expertise, training, etc. A community and church youth group in the same neighbourhood found they were often working with the same young people. Both groups were struggling to find enough volunteers, so they decided to merge.
4. TRY A JOINT EVENT
Could you run a holiday club, family fun day or after school club with another local church? Maybe your toddler group could provide breastfeeding support for new mums or a place to meet with midwives as local services change. Start small and then build on success. Christian parents from different churches saw a need for parenting support in their secondary school community. With the agreement of the school’s Senior Management, they ran a ‘Parent Talk’ parenting course at school. The first course was a great success and more than 140 parents signed up for a second course, with a waiting list!
By Kerstin Bowsher is a volunteer with Doorsteps, Viva’s partner network in Oxford. This is Kerstin’s second time volunteering with Viva; previously she developed training materials for networks. Have you got any other tips? Make a comment below or email email@example.com and tell us.
This article first appeared in Life magazine issue 6.