The Felt–Needs Concept
Often communities are developed by people outside of the community that bring in resources without taking into account the community itself. Christian Community Development is committed to listening to the community residents, and hearing their dreams, ideas and thoughts. This is often referred to as the felt-need concept. Listening is most important, as the people of the community are the vested treasures of the future.
It is important not to focus on the weaknesses or needs of a community. The felt-need concept helps us as community developers to focus on the desires of the community residents. The priority is the thoughts and dreams of the community itself. What the people themselves believe should be the focus. Asset-based community development focuses on the assets of a community and building upon them. When fused together through Christian Community Development, they can have extremely positive results.
A Chinese Poem, written by Lao-Tzu around 700 B.C, sums up the felt-need concept. Dr. John Perkins, founder of the Christian Community Development Association, has popularized it:
Go to the people.
Live with them, learn from them, love them.
Start with what they know, build with what they have.
But of the best leaders, when the work is done, the task accomplished,
The people will say, “We have done this ourselves.
Relocation: Living Among the People
Living out the gospel means desiring for one’s neighbor and neighbor’s family that which one desires for one’s self and family. Living out the gospel means bettering the quality of other people’s lives spiritually, physically, socially, and emotionally as one betters one’s own. Living out the gospel means sharing in the suffering and pain of others.
How did Jesus love? “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (Jn 1:14) Jesus relocated. He became one of us. He didn’t commute back and forth to heaven. Similarly, the most effective messenger of the gospel to the poor will also live among the poor that God has called the person to. A key phrase to understand relocation is incarnational ministry.
By relocating, a person will understand most clearly the real problems facing the poor; and then he or she may begin to look for real solutions. Relocation transforms “you, them, and theirs” to “we, us, and ours.” Effective ministries plant and build communities of believers that have a personal stake in the development of their neighborhoods. There is no question that relocation is the linchpin of Christian Community Development and that all other principles of development draw upon for meaning.
People To God
Reconciliation is at the heart of the gospel. Jesus said that the essence of Christianity could be summed up in two inseparable commandments: Love God, and love thy neighbor. (Mt 22:37-39) First, Christian Community Development (CCD) is concerned with reconciling people to God and bringing them into a church fellowship where they can be discipled in their faith. Evangelism is very much a part of Christian Community Development. It is recognized that the answer is not just a job or a decent place to live but having a true relationship with Jesus Christ. It is essential that the good news of Jesus Christ is proclaimed and that individuals place their faith in Christ for salvation.
People To People
The question is: Can a gospel that reconciles people to God without reconciling people to people be the true gospel of Jesus Christ? A person’s love for Christ should break down every racial, ethnic and economic barrier. As Christians come together to solve the problems of their community, the great challenge is to partner and witness together across these barriers in order to demonstrate our oneness in Christ. CCD recognizes that the task of loving the poor is shared by the entire body of Christ, black, white, brown, and yellow; rich and poor; urban and suburban; educated and uneducated. CCD is intentional about reconciliation and works hard to bring people of all races and cultures into the one worshipping body of Christ.
Redistribution (Just Distribution of Resources)
When men and women in the body of Christ are visibly present and living among the poor (relocation), and when people are intentionally loving their neighbor and their neighbor’s family the way a person loves him or herself and family (reconciliation), the result is redistribution, or a just distribution of resources. When God’s people with resources (regardless of their race or culture) commit to living in under-served communities seeking to be good neighbors, being examples of what it means to be a follower of Christ, working for justice for the entire community, and utilizing their skills and resources to address the problems of that community alongside their neighbors, then redistribution is being practiced.
The primary goal of leadership development is to restore the stabilizing glue and fill the vacuum of moral, spiritual, and economic leadership that is so prevalent in poor communities by developing leaders. This is most effectively done by raising up Christian leaders from the community of need who will remain in the community to live and lead. Most CCD ministries put a major focus on youth development, winning youth to Christ as early as kindergarten and then following them all the way through college with spiritual and educational nurturing. Upon returning from college a ministry creates opportunities for exercising leadership upon their return to the community.
For CCD ministries, developing leaders from the community is a huge priority that requires absolute commitment; the payoff is that our communities will be filled with strong Christian leaders who love their neighbors, and have the skills and abilities to lead our churches, organizations, and other institutions that bring sustainable health to our communities.
Listening to Community
Often communities are developed by people outside of the community that bring in resources without taking into account the community itself. CCD is committed to listening to the community residents, and hearing their dreams, ideas, and thoughts. This is often referred to as the felt need concept. Listening is most important, as the people of the community are the vested treasures of the future.
It is essential for community leaders to help the community focus on maximizing their strengths and abilities to make a difference for their community. The philosophy of CCD believes that the people with the problem have the best solutions and opportunities to solve those problems. CCD affirms the dignity of individuals and encourages the engagement of the community to use their own resources and assets to bring about sustainable change.
Nothing other than the community of God’s people is capable of affirming the dignity of the poor and enabling them to meet their own needs. It is practically impossible to do effective holistic ministry apart from the local church. A nurturing community of faith can best provide the thrusts of evangelism, discipleship, spiritual accountability, and relationships by which disciples grow in their walk with God. One problem today has been that the church is not involved in developing its communities. Often, the church has been an unfriendly neighbor in communities across our country. Churches are guilty of being open only on Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights and being almost irrelevant to the needs of the people around them. Because of this, many para-church organizations have started to do the work of loving their neighbor that the church had neglected. CCD sees the church as taking action towards the development of its community.
Oftentimes, many in ministry get passionate and involved in one area of need and think if they solve this particular problem that all else will be resolved. Christians, of course, often focus this area on a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Of course, the most essential element to CCD is evangelism and discipleship. Yet solving problems with lasting solutions is more than evangelism and discipleship.
There is never a simplistic answer to the problems in poor communities. Often, people will say that the problem is spiritual, social, or educational. Of course these are problems, but they are only part of the larger problems. Solving the housing problem does not solve the emotional struggles that a person has. CCD has a holistic approach to ministry that deals with the spiritual, social, economic, political, cultural, emotional, physical, moral, judicial, educational, and familial issues of each person.
Empowering people as community developers meet their needs is an important element to CCD. Oftentimes, Christian ministry, particularly in poor communities, creates dependency. This is no better than the federal government welfare program. The Bible teaches empowerment, not dependency. Oftentimes, charity demeans a person and strips him or her of dignity. CCD ministries avoid doing for people what they can do for themselves. CCD is about working with community members instead of working for them. CCD done properly affirms a person’s God-given dignity.