The Secret Sauce of Neighborhood Ministry

by FCS on

by Katie Delp


I love when visitors come to South Atlanta. It’s a joy to hear about the work they’re doing in other parts of the country and to let them see our ministries in action. Often folks have questions, and these can spark valuable conversations about neighborhoods, ministry, life, and transformation.

Sometimes visitors want to know what’s the secret sauce? What ministry hack did we employ to get Community Grounds and Carver Market up and running? How have we gotten so many neighbors invested in programs like our food co-op, Pride for Parents, or affordable housing? How have we been able to stay committed to this community for more than fifteen years?

It’s simple. We live here.

About half of our staff, including our leadership, lives in South Atlanta where we work and serve. I moved into the neighborhood when FCS began its work here in 2001. South Atlanta is where I met my husband, where both of my children were born, and where I own my home. The longer we at FCS stay in this work, the more we recognize that true transformation does not happen unless there are folks willing to move in and invest.

Of course, there are reasons not to move in. And when I talk with people, I usually hear from the list of valid excuses: I’m too old, I have kids, my wife won’t do it, I’ve never even thought about it, the schools, we live close by, etc. While I am empathetic to the difficulty of this decision for many ministry leaders, I also suspect that what many people are saying is simply, “I don’t want to.” Or maybe, “It’s just too hard.”  

I respect everyone’s unique circumstances and the decisions they’ve made regarding their life and ministry. However, when I’m asked what makes FCS tick, I will still say it’s because we live here.

We live in solidarity with our neighbors. When the local schools are failing, we’re all exploring our options to make it better together. When there was no grocery store, we were all traveling in the search for fresh food. When the power is out, we’re all sitting in the dark.

But this proximity yields creativity, passion, and teamwork. One year during a snowstorm, most of the neighborhood - including my home - was without power. But the FCS offices still had lights. Texts were flying through the streets of South Atlanta as we discussed a neighborhood potluck and slumber party! Thankfully, we got our power back quickly. But it’s that kind of community that creates successful programs.

We all want better schools. So through my work at FCS, we’re able to partner with Purpose Built Schools to see change in our neighborhood schools. Neighbors wanted a grocery store, so we were able to transform one of FCS’ spaces into a local market.

Our programs have emerged from our relationships as neighbors. And I am passionate about their success and accessibility because I am a neighbor. Most of the time, when I’m engaged in community activities, I can’t tell you whether I’m involved because I’m the Executive Director of FCS or because I’m a resident. I also know that when people in the community come to me with questions or challenges, they don’t approach me because of my role at a local nonprofit. They come to me as a friend and neighbor.

It’s a gift to me to live in South Atlanta. And I believe that our staff’s commitment to the neighborhood as residents is a driving force behind our programs and our community development work. It’s the secret sauce!