By Steve Matthews, Senior Missional Consultant for FaithX

In August I attended a presentation offered by the Episcopal Diocese of Iowa and Iowa State University in Ames, IA.  These two organizations have been collaborating to address the declining populations in small towns in Iowa (and the decline in many of the churches in these small towns).  While the population of Iowa is increasing, it is the larger population centers that are experiencing the growth.

The title of the report was “Shrinking Smart”.  While the study itself was focused on small towns in decline, the findings relate to many towns and townships (even those that are growing) and the faith communities planted there.  Basically, the report identified factors that improved the quality of life in these towns.  Studies show that enhanced quality of life builds community resilience and decreases the likelihood that people will move away.

The churches gathered were disappointed that survey respondents did not acknowledge faith communities as a contributor to quality of life.  The conversation that followed was illuminating.  Most of the churches acknowledged that very little that happened at their church that was visible to the community.  Their consistent partnerships with other community organizations was minimal.  In short, their ministry to the community was mostly siloed within the walls of their churches.

One of the practices that seems to enhance quality of life in communities was referred to as “bridging” by the researchers.  In short, communities that have a sense of interdependence and connection as part of their common life, score higher on “quality of life” and slow or stop their population decline.  The invitation to churches was to become part of this web of interdependence.

The French philosopher Simone de Beauvoir writes in The Blood of Others, “I cannot withdraw into myself. I exist, outside myself and everywhere in the world. There is not an inch of my path which does not encroach on the path of another: there is no way of being that can prevent me from overflowing myself at every moment”.  The opportunity suggested by this quote is that we get to decide how our energy will overflow into our community.  What impact do we wish to have for the sake of our neighbors?  How are other organizations and individuals in the community poised to accompany our faith communities in life-giving ways?

At FaithX we encourage generative practices that grow church vitality and quality of life in our communities, and we are available to help your community notice, name, and nurture the potentiality of new connections and partnerships that build bridges. Reach out to us at info@faithx.net.