By Katie Delp
“There’s just something different about this neighborhood.” I hear this passing comment all the time. When people encounter the work of our neighborhood association, they notice.
Some neighborhood associations are notorious for their paralyzing politics, power games, and general dysfunction. In response, ministries or organizations may choose to opt out of engaging with neighborhood associations. But these groups can be one of your most valuable partners if a strong relationship can be cultivated.
At FCS, we highly value supporting and developing effective local leaders. It’s core to our community transformation model. We’re often asked the best ways to interface with local neighborhood leadership, whether a formal association or an informal leader.
Here are a couple of steps to forming healthy relationships and trust:
Acknowledge Local Leaders
All communities have leaders. Regardless of a neighborhood’s crime statistics or high school test scores, leaders live there. Often, these leaders may not be the people actually holding official positions, but they possess great influence in the community. Gaining their trust and friendship is crucial.
Meet them without agenda. Take the time to get to know one another as friends and neighbors. Spend time in each others’ homes and with families. Be genuine. Fifteen years ago, I began meeting the leaders of my community, and I am still grateful for these friendships.
I attended our neighborhood association meetings for three years before ever speaking up. Pay attention, and spend time listening to what people are sharing (and perhaps more telling, what they are not sharing).
Be slow to disagree. Take the time to know your neighbors, and to be known by them. Earn the right to speak. Never stop listening.
Submit to Local Leadership
Commit to working under the leadership of the group. It may be a challenge, but this practice will go a long way in building a healthy, trusting relationship with your neighborhood leaders.
This step is especially important if you and your organization/church are coming from a place of privilege or are a majority group entering a minority community. Your willingness to follow can empower other leaders and set an example for other followers.
Remember this process isn’t about you and your needs - it’s about the neighborhood.
Resilience for the Long Haul
Neighborhood associations take lots of ups and down, twists and turns. It’s a part of the process. Commit to a long vision, and don’t sweat the small stuff.
FCS has participated in Historic South Atlanta for a decade and a half. Our neighborhood association is healthy and thriving. Leaders have transitioned several times, and with each transition they get stronger. An even stronger community follows behind.