Q&A with Shawn Duncan, Donell Woodson & Monica Evans

Q&A with Shawn Duncan, Donell Woodson & Monica Evans


Dr. Shawn Duncan
is the director of the Lupton Center, the training and consulting division of Focused Community Strategies, a nonprofit community development organization in Atlanta.

Donell Woodson is the lead trainer and consultant for community development
at the Lupton Center.

Monica Evans is the project manager for the Lupton Center.

Q: How can churches effectively equip their congregants to impact their community, even independently of the Church? 01

Shawn: I think this is an issue of formation, not about programming. We have disconnected discipleship from mission as if these are different departments and actions. We’ve divorced spirituality from mission as if these are different things. Churches ought to be forming the kind of people who live this way, not creating programs to manage it all.

I think a church could have resources and infrastructure to support these groups happening. They can and they should, but they’re going to be much more decentralized. Instead of the church being the buffer between congregants and the community, the church says, “We’re going to form and equip you to engage in your own unique context.”

I think it’s what we should be about, a sort of reversal of who’s at the center. Is it a church’s interest or God’s activity in the world? Is it the congregation’s campus or a neighborhood?

Q: What about the people who feel they have a calling to help those in need? 02

Monica: If you’re walking into a place and you feel called to save these people, it’s often because you don’t know anything about them and you’re making assumptions about them, assuming they need to
be saved. If you’re really going to be called to those people, go spend some time with them. Often, church posture is not to go be with people. Instead, it acts as a barrier between you and people, filtering everything
that happens through a very tiny corridor of what the church says and believes.

Shawn: You may feel God calling you, but has the neighborhood called you? Have the people that you’re concerned about voiced a call to you? You need both. I don’t want to say that it’s one or the other, but it’s valuable to discern God’s call in the context of a community confirming that they want you there. If you don’t have that yet, then dial it back, take your time, build relationships and find out if your presence is even necessary.

Q: At the Lupton Center, you use specific tools and assessments to track the groups and people who are interacting with one another. Using these, how do you measure success? Is there anything groups should be aware of when it comes to these assessment tools? 03

Monica: In general, we sometimes think about success wrongly. If an organization or a program has been started and every year all they’re thinking about is, “How many meals were served? How many kids were seen? How many vaccines were given?” then perhaps they’re not asking, “What would it look like if we followed 30 families over the course of five years?” At Lupton Center, we encourage a more comprehensive, integrated system of tracking impact, something that allows us to know that the baby that we saw at five years old, who got their vaccines before they went to kindergarten, is now making good grades as a fifth grader. Often, we think about the people we’re serving as just mouths to be fed or folks to be clothed for interviews as opposed to thinking about what it is that they need to help move them toward thriving. We need to reframe what success means.

Donell: We want to build the scale that Monica’s talking about so we can say how many numbers we’ve reached. What we don’t want is for the model itself to be built in such a way that the cycle of dependency continues.

What happens then is that people start to show up with expectancy. They may start to say, “I don’t want what you’re giving me. I actually want something else.” Then the giver, who was at first finding gratification in being the hands and feet of Christ, might begin to think, “You should just take what I give. You are very ungrateful.”

That paternalistic model creates a dependency on both sides. We often analyze this through the lens of the receiver, but it creates dependency for the giver as well, a sense of, “I need you to need me.” That is something we don’t want.

Q: With that measure of success in mind, what approach should community groups take when deciding where to work or who to serve? 04

Monica: I hear churches or people say, “We’re just a tiny group doing this one thing.” It’s important to understand that you may be a small organization, but you’re in an ecosystem in which large changes can be made if all the people who are doing their one tiny thing work together.

Think local. Draw a circle and ask, “Who are the people that I can be talking to in this place? How can we work together to make this place better?” I think large changes can happen if everybody is creating that loop and thinking about how to make the area better together.

Donell: Instead of the individual, the city or the larger 100-mile radius being the focus or central unit to thriving, we want to focus on the neighborhood. We’re saying to the large or small parishes, the organization or the individual wanting to do good, you have a neighborhood, and place matters. It is key and essential.

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