Letter from the President

by FCS Ministries on

September 2015  

We have a wonderful privilege at FCS. We are surrounded by a dynamic group of supporters and volunteers who believe in our work. We also have the opportunity to connect with organizations around the country who share our mission in their neighborhoods. With all these relationships, we’ve noticed two questions that we are often asked.




First, What does “FCS” stand for? If you go way back with FCS, you know Bob Lupton started the organization as Family Consultation Services. When he set up the official non-profit, though, the name had evolved into simply FCS Urban Ministries. As Bob has handed off leadership and mentored young leaders, the initials “FCS” have been reframed to provide a more holistic description of our work: with “Focused Community Strategies”.


The second question is, What does FCS do? We partner with under-served neighborhoods to provide innovative and holistic development that produces flourishing communities where God’s Shalom is present. There are four areas of focus that allow us to accomplish this vision: Mixed-income Housing Development, Economic Development, Community Development and Training & Education. We align our programming within this four pillar structure.

FCS Logo RGB 300dpi

This month, we are rolling out a new logo that expresses our vision with an image demonstrating the strength of a pattern woven from our four areas of focus. Bob has used the idea of reweaving the fabric of community for years, and we are excited to incorporate that image as foundational to our brand. The logo also forms a cross, communicating a clear stance in regard to how our Christian faith motivates our work.


Our aim continues to be to reweave the fabric of communities through innovative and holistic development practices. We know the work requires commitment, creativity, and patience. Decades of work at FCS have shown tremendous impact in Atlanta neighborhoods.


Thank you for walking with us during this leadership transition over the last year. Our board and staff teams have dreamed big dreams about our direction and strategy for this next season in the life of FCS. We are energized by the strength of our four pillars and the engaging work going on in our current neighborhood of South Atlanta. FCS continues to be an innovator in the field of neighborhood-based community development. Thank you for your ongoing support that makes it possible for us to empower neighborhoods to thrive!


Jim Wehner

President, Focused Community Strategies


Ben Teague

Chairman, Focused Community Strategies 


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Carver Market: "Guerrilla Grocer" in the News

by FCS Ministries on

By Jeff Delp We love to tell Atlantans about the Carver Market, and we are encouraged as local leaders and media outlets are sharing in our enthusiasm. Atlanta's 11Alive news recently came out to South Atlanta to see what we are doing and to spread the word.



We knew we were changing the game when we opened Carver Market in South Atlanta. For the first time in 50 years, people would be able to walk less than a mile to the store. However, since opening in April, we've learned that while folks don't mind walking to the store, carrying groceries home is less appealing.


So we're doing what every good business does - figuring out how to best serve our customers. To that end, we've added the bike delivery you see in the video above.


Thanks in part to a grant from the Atlanta Cycling Festival, our bike delivery service employs our young bike mechanics from the South Atlanta Bike Shop to carry goods to our customers' houses after shopping.


We're starting with a 1 mile radius from the store, including the communities of Peoplestown, Chosewood Park, South Atlanta, and Villages of Carver. As the program gains momentum, we'll seek to deliver to a greater area and may even offer online or phone ordering!


Thanks so much to 11Alive for sharing our story. For more information regarding our bike delivery service, inquire within the store.

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3 Keys to Transforming a Community

by FCS Ministries on

By Shawn Duncan

There are many misunderstandings about poverty. But there is one truth around which we at FCS seek to focus our efforts: Poverty is a community issue.

We work with one urban neighborhood at a time. We move in as neighbors and work within that fixed geographic community. Right now, we are at work in historic South Atlanta, a neighborhood of 520 homes just south of downtown.

But moving into a community is only the start. In our community work, we focus on the following three areas of impact:

#1. Economic Development

We have to think about jobs and about affordable access to the things that make neighborhoods thrive (check out this index for more on flourishing neighborhoods).

Economic Development means looking at the assets and barriers that exist and finding holistic ways to address them. It means partnering with business owners, entrepreneurs, and others with the know-how to create wealth and opportunity for others.

Bob Lupton asks a great question in his latest book Charity Detox, “If our goal is to alleviate poverty, does it not make sense to invite into the mission those who are gifted in wealth creation?”

#2 - Community Development

When people want to get involved in serving low-income neighbors, they often think solely about what is wrong. We encourage people to discover and start with what strengths are present in their community.

At FCS don’t spend all of our time thinking about what is broken in our neighborhood. We think about the the great capacities within our neighbors. We look for leaders and partner with them. We do a lot of listening. Much of the power needed to transform a community is already present within that community.

#3 - Mixed-income Housing

Affordable housing is vital to the stability of any neighborhood. FCS - though our housing ministry Charis Community Housing - creates access to quality, affordable housing. We are finding a way to make our community a mixed-income neighborhood.

Just as most neighborhoods became distressed when families with resources moved out, we invite resourced people to move in. Friendships develop between families with resource and families experiencing poverty so that together, we experience Shalom.

For more insight on our ministry philosophy, we would encourage you to read Charity Detox written by our Founder, Bob Lupton. Or, reach out to me, the Director of Training and Education, to learn more or schedule a training. You can reach me at shawn[at]fcsministries[dot]org.


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Big Heart to Love the Abandoned

by FCS Ministries on

By Bob Lupton  

Shelley and Clay Corrigan have big hearts. When they saw the plight of thousands of abandoned orphans in Haiti, they simply had to do something. Something radical.


They packed their essential belongings, cashed in their very modest life savings, bought plane tickets, and headed straight into the most destitute place in the western hemisphere. They signed on with an orphanage, immersed themselves in the language and culture of the Haitian people, and took immediate steps to adopt one of the orphan children.




During the adoption process, the director of the orphanage asked them if they would be interested in meeting the child's mother. The question stunned them. They had assumed that the child’s parents were dead or missing. In fact, the little tyke’s mother came regularly to visit him. Of course they wanted to meet her!


“Why do you want to give up your child?” they questioned the mother when she came for her next visit. “I don’t want to give my baby away,” the young woman responded emphatically. But she had no way to care for him, she explained.


She had no job, could barely find scraps of food for herself, squatted in a make-shift lean-to beside a disease-ridden dump. This was no place for a child, she said with obvious emotion. In the orphanage, at least he would be safe and fed and maybe have a chance for a decent life. But, no, she really did not want to give up her baby.


This was an entirely different reality than Shelley and Clay had pictured when they first arrived in Haiti. They had assumed that the many orphanages run by mission-minded westerners were overflowing with abandoned, parentless children who would likely die on the street from disease or malnutrition or neglect if someone didn’t come to their rescue.


That’s what orphans are, right? Children without parents. But the deeper Shelley and Clay explored the histories of the children in their orphanage – and in other orphanages around the country – the more disturbed they became.


Their research exposed that at least 80% of Haitian children labeled “orphans” actually had living parents! The overwhelming majority of the hundreds of thousands of children in Haitian orphanages were not orphans at all! They were children whose parents could not support them because they had no jobs.


Jobs! That’s what was needed! Not more orphanages or more adopting westerners. Shelley and Clay began to scour the area for any available means for a young mother to generate some legitimate income.


One resource that lay scattered in abundance was trash. If they could create beads from waste materials, perhaps they could produce necklaces and bracelets that would be marketable to their contacts back in the States. It was worth a try. Their experiments led them to a simple, labor-intensive method of fashioning attractive, brightly colored jewelry that had appeal to their American friends.


Corrigan’s first full-time employee was a mother who was desperate to keep her baby. She was soon earning enough income to rent a small room suitable for herself and her infant son. More experimentation. Then another mother hired. And another.


By the time the enterprise had registered an official name – The Apparent Project – 29 young mothers were crowded around tables and benches in the Corrigan’s home, producing saleable jewelry products, all reunited with their children. The project expanded into the Corrigan’s garage and then into a larger building.


Fathers who had been unable to support their families also joined the workforce. At last count, 220 parents were employed, some of them managing their own teams of workers. All were making livable wages and producing quality products being shipped to international markets. Shelley and Clay dream of employing 1000 parents.


There are still many true orphans in Haiti whose parents have died or disappeared. Good orphanages are certainly needed as are good adopting families. The Corrigan’s have adopted two of these orphans themselves.


But something is quite wrong when the prevailing non-profit orphanage system – mostly faith-based – “creates” orphans by mis-labeling them and markets them as abandoned, yet does little to correct the underlying problem that forces their parents to give them up. It is a classic case of rightly motivated people rushing in to rescue the perishing, establishing emergency ministries that do in fact save lives, but failing to shift to empowerment strategies as the crisis becomes chronic.


When poverty becomes an industry supported by misinformed donors that enables professional workers to maintain a western lifestyle under the guise of alleviating poverty even as they perpetuate dependency, that industry must be challenged. Shelley and Clay Corrigan are doing just that. And in the most productive, self-sustaining, family-strengthening way.

Photo credit: DVIDSHUB


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Charis Housing Summer Update

by FCS Ministries on

We have been busy at Charis! Two houses sold this summer, and two more are currently listed. Watching new homeowners close on our houses never gets old, and it’s a joy to welcome more neighbors to our South Atlanta community.  



In July and August, we hosted Metro Atlanta Project (M.A.P.) and their amazing volunteers. They served 30 Charis families with their skills, time, and enthusiasm.


One homeowner commented, “Those young folks were wonderful. I am pleased with their work and wanted to reward them with pizza!” Who could ask for a better thank you?




This fall, we’re completing four more houses that will soon be listed, and we’re in process of buying two more homes. We are working steadily towards our mission to strengthen families and neighborhoods one house at a time. And we couldn’t do it without your help! Thank you so much for your ongoing support.


To donate to Charis, click here.


Check out our current listings: 

1607 Lakewood Ave SE

61 Dorothy St SE


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3 Common Misunderstandings About Poverty

by FCS Ministries on

By Shawn Duncan

FCS has been working in urban neighborhoods affected by poverty for decades. We've also welcomed service teams and connected with other groups doing similar work all around the country. In that time we have learned a lot about what works…and what doesn’t!

It's exciting to see individuals and organizations dream big about how a community can be revitalized and re-energized to thrive. An important place to start is a holistic understanding of poverty. Along the way, we've observed three common misunderstanding about poverty.

Misunderstanding #1: Defining Poverty as Material Lack

When evaluating a community, how you diagnose an issue will directly impact how to attempt to address it. Do we see "poverty" solely as a lack of stuff? Does limited money, clothes, or food make up our entire definition of poverty?

If we focus on material lack, we will spend our time, resources, and energy sourcing and distributing that stuff. Before we know it, our community development can become a "fill the empty bucket" approach.

Unfortunately, this strategy will never really alleviate poverty. It may make one day easier for someone experiencing poverty, but it will not impact the problem. In some instances, this approach actually digs the poverty hole deeper.

Misunderstanding #2: Envisioning Poverty as an Individual (or Family)

Yes, there are individuals and families experiencing poverty and affected by its presence. However, focusing on such personal realities can miss the bigger picture. We have to expand our understanding of poverty beyond the person or family that approaches us with a need.

FCS defines poverty as a systematic reality. We do our best to take into account issues of place, access, transportation, housing, etc beyond the simple "lack of stuff" paradigm. We have to know the difference between the manifestations of symptoms the original, systematic causes.

Misunderstanding #3: Addressing Poverty from One Angle Only

If the first two misunderstandings go unaddressed, it is extremely likely that the solution will approach only one aspect of the need. For example, a poor family that shares a need for housing will be helped with the provision of a place to live.

While this may occasionally be the "hand up" this family needed to escape poverty, that is not the norm. Typically, challenges with housing are intertwined with additional systematic issues that must be addressed, such as jobs, education, food, etc.

Even if this approach does help one person or family at a time, it is not an approach that can sustain real change in a poor community. For groups who seek to move the poverty needle in a community, a multidimensional strategy is a necessity.

These are 3 common misunderstandings about poverty we have observed over time. At FCS, we aim for neighborhood transformation, using methods that engage a community holistically.

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We Wish You a Merry... Pride for Parents!

by FCS Ministries on

It’s September and that means… Christmas! Right? For retailers across America and for us at FCS, we’re dreaming and scheming for Christmas 2015. You in? Our Annual Pride for Parents campaign is kicking off!  

New to our holiday program? Each year, we offer new toys at greatly reduced prices so that parents in our community receive the joy and delight of purchasing Christmas gifts for their kids. It's a different kind of model that replaced our Adopt-a-Family program many years ago.




We watched as suburban families delivered presents to the homes of needy families. And it wasn't long before we noticed the hurt in eyes of struggling parents as they watched others provide for their children. We knew there had to be a better way, and Pride for Parents was born.


Pride for Parents is our bustling, community Christmas store. We welcome neighbors as they get into the spirit of the season and find great deals to delight their family on Christmas. Can you feel a little bit of that spirit already?




We are seeking toy donations for all ages. Gifts that are always a big hit include: bikes and scooters, anything Frozen or Doc McStuffins, and Lego. We also have an Amazon wishlist to help you shop.


Finally, please contact us if you want to host a toy drive or volunteer at Pride for Parents. We are looking forward to another cheery season, offering families in our community dignity alongside affordable gifts. Thank you for partnering with us!


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10 Smart Quotes from Charity Detox

by FCS Ministries on

In July, we celebrated the release of Charity Detox, Bob Lupton's latest book on what charity would look like if we cared about results. It's been fun to see the enthusiastic response and read reviews of the book. Our own Shawn Duncan shared his thoughts here.  

As a fun gift, we've put together some of our favorite quotes from the book. We designed captivating visuals that are sharable, printable, and anything-else-you-want-able. Here's two examples to give you an idea:



Unexamined Charity


Get all the images for free. Just fill out the form on this page.

Have you read Charity Detox yet? Let us know what you think in the comments!

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When Following God Doesn’t Follow Protocol

by FCS Ministries on

By Jim Wehner

A resident in our transitional housing program was late on her rent. Since the program provides assistance to families and individuals that need help with housing, this predicament is nothing new. Part of assisting people in their housing needs includes mentoring in financial choices and prioritizing payments.

This particular tenant had been through all our channels of assistance and, as happens sometimes, it was time to begin the eviction process. This ending is never easy for us. Even though we invest a great deal of time, resources, and energy before we reach this place, it still feels like we have failed somehow.

But this time something happened. A fire in her apartment.

This same resident - whose worldly possessions fit into a one room efficiency apartment with two of her children - now lost almost everything. She moved in with her mother, who was in another apartment in the same building.

FCS worked feverishly to repair the damage from the fire, which ended up costing a great deal. This was no small event. It challenged the strength of our entire team as we dealt with the crisis.

And for the resident, it was not the first time for her to start over. The very fact that her mother was in the same transitional program reveals the generational dynamics at work in their family.  

We resumed conversations about her rent, now unpaid for three months, when the unthinkable happened. Her mother went into diabetic shock, then a coma, before passing away 24 hours later.

The apartment could be repaired. Most of her possessions could be replaced. But now she had lost her one source of strength in her life. It was devastating.  

And though I felt guilty for even thinking about it, I realized we never answered of our original question: Should we evict her? Of course, we had reasons to say yes. Our protocol requires all our residents to be involved in their own process. The months without paying rent, as well as by-passing other opportunities, would typically lead to ending our support.

But our goal is to support families and individuals that need help with housing. In this case, we chose not to evict. There was just too much happening in her life to add homelessness to the pile.

And we are reminded that God is our provider. God is bigger than the tragedies and intensities that enter our lives at the worst moments. And honestly, in our work, the level of need almost always outstrips our personal and corporate resources.

Over time, God provided a place for our resident to live with a family member, and she moved out of our apartments. For us, we grow in our experiences of waiting on God to provide beyond our abilities.  And we watch expectantly for him to do so. This consistent posture has developed in us low-frequency trust in God to fill these gaps between resource and need. And God always shows up.



Grapes and Plums: Juicy Street Talk

by FCS Ministries on

By Jeff Delp  

I rarely drive to work. I live four blocks from Carver Neighborhood Market, so I typically ride my bike.




And sometimes people talk to me.


Or rather, after 15 years in South Atlanta, I’m used to people shouting at me. Pedestrians, drivers, and other bikers often holler above the noisy streets anything from “hey” to more colorful language I won’t go into here.


But more recently, I had a surprising conversation with a man who was also a Carver Market customer.


While at the store, he had expressed some concern about our new method of packaging grapes. He was hesitant to purchase without being able to taste the produce.


So when I saw him walking down the sidewalk during my bike ride, I stopped and asked him how the grapes had been. He assured me they were just fine, and I rode off.


I was a half block away when he shouted, “Mr. Jeff… and those plums! They were AMAZING! Best plums I’ve ever had!”


I can honestly say that’s the first time I’ve had a conversation in the community about the quality of produce at a local store. Neighbors in South Atlanta now have something new to talk about as they pass in the streets: delicious plums! That’s a food oasis!


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5 Tips for Partnering with Your Local School

by FCS Ministries on

By Shawn Duncan

Working with local schools is a valuable way to engage your community. After all, it’s where local kids spend the majority of their day, and it affects families, employees, and so many others in your neighborhood.

One of the most rewarding things for me in community work is seeing how churches and schools can come together. Currently, I serve on the Family Engagement Parent Advisory Council and the Interfaith Leaders Coalition for the Dekalb County School District.  

A key distinction for me in this work is the idea of partnering with schools, not adopting them. Maybe I am nitpicking words here, but adopting can come with the all-too-common assumption that the church has the resources and the school simply has needs. Your schools are filled with amazing people, abundant resources, and incredible ideas. Come with a posture that embraces the dignity of the school.

I want to share 5 tips you can use to develop healthy church-school partnerships in your community.

TIP #1: Don’t misinterpret a lack of response.

I’ve watched churches get discouraged when attempts to reach out to a school are not responded to warmly or at all. The assumption is that the school does not need help, has some bias against faith groups, or simply does not care enough to respond.

From my experience, these have never been the actual reasons. Most often the slow (or no) response is evidence that an authentic relationship between the church and school has yet to be established.

TIP #2: Leverage networks to connect to schools.

Cold calls (or emails) don’t work. Relationships do. I tried and tried to get a meeting with one principal because I was told how eager she was for community partnerships. It did not happen, though, until a ministry partner of mine who knows her personally called her, told her about me and set a meeting for the three of us to talk.

All of my assumptions about why she never responded were false. She’s amazing! But she is also beyond capacity trying to run a school, and she could only trust me when someone she trusted trusted me (got that?).

TIP #3: Be patient because it will be messy.

Even if you have the right relationships, practice asset-based models, and exhibit the right posture, there is no short-cut to effective partnership with a school. If a school had a full-time community liaison on staff, maybe (maybe!) it would go more smoothly. But they don’t, so it won’t.

If you are looking for something simple, clean, and easy, partnering with a school is not for you. However, if you are seeking a long-term relationship that can have a transformative impact on your community, partnering with a school is right up your alley.

TIP #4: Adjust focus to the school’s objectives. (Not your outreach needs.)

Sometimes churches reach out to schools because the church itself has a need they are trying to meet - like getting another site added to their service project event they’ve been promoting for months. Or they’ve got too many volunteers and not enough things to do. So they reach out to “help” the local school.

This is one example (of many) of how attempts to “serve” schools can have more to do with the needs of the church than the objectives of the school. Take time to learn what the school cares about, and align yourself with that agenda. Be honest about your own needs and motives. When you are ready to learn about and support the school’s objectives, then you are ready for partnership.

TIP #5: Make the school the hero!

When you do develop relationships, understand their objectives, and create asset-based partnerships, you are sure (eventually) to see meaningful results. These stories need to be told and celebrated! When you do, though, make sure the school, administration, teachers, and the students and their families take center stage, not your ministry.

Education is a vital component of healthy community development, and it’s a perfect way for churches to engage their community.  If you are interested in learning more or consulting with your church about school partnerships, please contact me at shawn {at} fcsministries {dot} org.


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Students Ready to Take on the World!

by katiedelp on

by Katie Delp  

Parents rejoice! Teenagers groan. And kids can’t sleep the night before. School is back in session in Atlanta!


And thanks to the generosity of our partners and donors, students in South Atlanta started the school year with chic backpacks loaded with school essentials. Over 100 families came into the Carver Neighborhood Market in the days leading up to school to purchase their school supplies.




Families were able to purchase backpacks at reduced cost, allowing parents the opportunity to provide for their children with dignity. As an added bonus, we even watched as older students bought backpacks with their own hard-earned money.


We couldn’t pull off our Back to School drive without our fantastic partners! Special thanks to our backpack providers: Christian Church Buckhead, For the Kid in Us, Crossroads Presbyterian Church, and All Souls Church.  




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Meet Shawn Duncan, Director of Training and Education

by FCS Ministries on

It's not uncommon for FCS to receive requests for coaching, consulting, and training. Therefore, as part of our strategic plan, we are working to create a learning center that offers education, coaching, and training resources for churches, nonprofits, and others interested in smart charity and community development.  

To lead this effort, we welcome Dr. Shawn Duncan to the team as the Director of Training and Education! Shawn has spent the last 15 years in ministry - as a preacher, teacher, coach, minister, and, most recently, as a co-founder of the nonprofit EIRO.

He finished his MDiv in 2006 from Lipscomb University and in 2014 completed his DMin at Columbia Theological Seminary. He describes his professional and academic pursuits as motivated by one thing: "a driving desire to see the church fully participate with God in God's mission in the world."

Shawn and his wife, Holly, moved to Atlanta in 2005 to join the staff of a local church. Since then they have had two sons, started a nonprofit and discovered more of their calling through the CCDA and FCS. The diversity, opportunities, and new friendships they have encountered in 10 years in Atlanta has transformed their lives. They live in Tucker and are continually shaped and changed by their international neighbors.

Shawn and Holly love wasting hours wandering through used books stores, buying too many books and then spending hours in coffee shops reading those books. If you ask him to choose a favorite, though, he says, "Like choosing a favorite child, this is impossible to answer! So, I will say of the handful of books I am reading right nowmy favoriteis The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison. One of the most formative books in my life, though, has been and continues to be The Prophetic Imagination by Walter Brueggemann."

Their two boys (9 & 7) have picked up on this love of reading as well as their mom's love for the beach and their dad's love for backpacking. Shawn loves any excuse to get outside and into the wilderness!

FCS is delighted to welcome Shawn and his family to the team. And we expect great things to come as we develop a learning center. If you are interested in setting up a training workshop or consulting services, please contact shawn{at}fcsministries{dot}org.

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What Does It Mean To Be An Intentional Neighbor?

by FCS Ministries on

One of the core tenets of FCS and our housing ministry, Charis Community Housing, is the value of neighboring. We practice local living, believing that everyone needs each other. There is beauty in doing life together and raising families together.  

When FCS began work in the neighborhood of East Lake many years ago, we included a Strategic Neighbor Program. This program established an official structure for individuals who desired to move to a low-income neighborhood, motivated by their Christian faith and their commitment to reconciliation, restoration, and redistribution.




Strategic Neighbors received rental assistance and stipends to support their work in the community. They also attended regular meetings with other Strategic Neighbors. This programming worked well during our time in East Lake, and the program remained in East Lake even as FCS’ focus shifted to South Atlanta.


We did not establish a similar Strategic Neighbor program in South Atlanta. Instead, we began to consider historical residents in the community who had invited us to join their commitment to the neighborhood. Their faith had encouraged them to live purposefully on their streets and in the overall community. Each of these residents held a great deal of spiritual and communal wisdom to share with others.


We began to question the term “Strategic Neighbor” and why it would apply to new neighbors any more than these long-time residents. We recognized that without an official program in place, we also needed a new, more inclusive term to talk about those working for transformation of the community.


A great deal of thought and debating resulted in the phrase “intentional neighboring” to describe the on-the-ground community work happening in South Atlanta. This wording is more of a verb than a noun. It’s not a job description, nor a checklist of what to do or not to do. Rather, it describes purposeful living in whatever place God has called you.


We encourage others who are moving into distressed communities to partner with the residents already working for good. We emphasize neighborhood leadership and a commitment to mixed-income housing development. We believe this partnership strategy builds into the neighborhood’s social, spiritual, and economic vitality. Together, intentional neighbors can and do have a big impact on their community.


This post was originally posted on the Charis Community Housing blog. 


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Failing with God

by FCS Ministries on

By Bob Lupton

I enjoy it when business friends invite me to join them for coffee. Business deals fascinate me. I would probably be a serial entrepreneur if I hadn’t received a calling to enter urban ministry.

On one breakfast occasion, I was listening with much interest to a conversation between two friends – a fishing equipment manufacturer and an investor – as they discussed a new product idea that promised to make millions. There’s money to be made in the angling industry if you can produce a lure that fish find irresistible. Fishermen know that bass love night crawlers. So did the owner of the manufacturing company. Plastic night crawlers were among his best sellers.

The only problem is that when bass strike from the rear, they bite off the back end of the worm leaving a short stub and an empty hook for the fisherman to reel in. The solution, said the manufacturer with obvious excitement, is to mold in a second hook at the tail end of the worm. Then no matter where the bass hits the worm, a hook would be waiting.

The idea was ingenious in its simplicity. K-Mart had already committed for a first order of five hundred thousand lures if they could be delivered in time for the coming fishing season. The investment was a good one, the business owner assured his potential investor.

It would be fairly easy to set up an automated mold that would infuse the plastic worm around the two hooks, the manufacturer explained. The challenge, however, was the time-consuming task of securely tying together the rear hook to the front hook at the precise distance apart for accurate insertion into the molding machine.

This would require tedious hand work. Finding a contractor to tie a million fish hooks together in the next ninety days would take some concentrated research. They would probably have to go to China or Taiwan, he said.

“Why don’t you do it right here in Atlanta,” I blurted out without much forethought. It was the disturbing prospect of shipping jobs overseas when so many of my inner-city neighbors were unemployed that brought me out of my silence. “We could set up an operation in my neighborhood right away,” I said with naïve confidence.

It would take some trial runs to establish efficient tying techniques and production speed, but I assured them we could make an accurate bid and begin production within two weeks. And so began one of the most exciting, stimulating, energetic ventures I had ever embarked upon.

My neighbors were eager to work. I rented some vacant warehouse space, set up long rows of tables, and started taking applications. Applicants sat across the tables facing each other. Each had a spool of line, a pair of scissors, a pile of fish hooks and a “jig” with two slots to insert the hooks into.

They practiced threading the hooks, tying a special non-slip knot, and transferring each two-hook harness onto a card that assured its accuracy. Not all the applicants had the manual dexterity for the work and did not make the cut. Those we hired were paid by the piece.

On the wall behind each worker was posted a large production sheet that tracked their hourly output. The competition was invigorating. Some with amazingly fast fingers tallied very generous paychecks. Needless to say, it was a very stimulating work environment.

In eight weeks our little operation had tied one million fish hooks together and delivered the contract ahead of schedule and under budget. The manufacturing company shipped out their initial order of double-hook night crawlers to K-Mart stores across the country.

Our employees eagerly awaited for the re-orders to flood in. They waited. And waited. But the re-orders never came.

It seems that one important element in this venture had been overlooked. The lure, though very attractive to retailers and fisher-folk, had not been vetted with the end consumer – the fish! The bass were simply not interested in night crawlers that had hooks protruding from their tails. Amid much disappointment, we closed up shop.

I wish I could tell you that this fishing lure venture was my only ministry misfire. But alas, it is but one in a lengthy litany of failed schemes I have attempted over four decades of serving among the poor.

There was the free clothes closet that turned into a grab-what-you-can feeding frenzy. And the toys-for-tots Christmas give-away that became a greedy entitlement program. And the chaos that my “jobs program” inflicted on some good-hearted friends when I sent them unruly urban teens to work in their businesses.

The list goes on – a pallet manufacturing operation, a sewing company, a lawn-care service, to name a few – all created for the noble purpose of providing jobs for unemployed folk in my community. Once in a while a venture did flourish but, regrettably, most fizzled over time. If failures can be considered “learning experiences” then I am indeed a very learned man!

Somewhere along this roller-coaster journey, it became clear to me that the rightness of one’s motives does not ensure the success of one’s efforts. The 80% crash and burn rate for start-up businesses during their first 18 months (according to Forbes) appears to apply not only to the for-profit world but to ministry ventures as well.

Just because we are diligently pursuing the will of God and seeking to “do justice and love mercy,” there are no guarantees that our self-sacrificing efforts will produce the outcomes we envision. Different outcomes perhaps. Outcomes like humility, or the relationships that are forged in adversity, or the deepening of faith when the bottom has dropped out.

In the end, God may be more interested in our faithfulness than in our successes.



Carver Neighborhood Market Launches Grocery Bike Delivery Service, August 3

by FCS Ministries on

New offering extends food access across Historic South Atlanta and surrounding neighborhoods  

ATLANTA – July 28, 2015 – The Carver Neighborhood Market, empowered by Focused Community Strategies (FCS), will begin its grocery bike delivery service on Monday, Aug. 3, 2015. This joint effort with the South Atlanta Bike Shop, also empowered by FCS, will continue to increase access to fresh, healthy and affordable food across Historic South Atlanta and surrounding neighborhoods.

Generously funded by the Atlanta Cycling Festival, the grocery bike delivery service for the Carver Neighborhood Market will have a fleet of bikers who deliver groceries within a one-mile radius of the market during store hours. In addition to serving Historic South Atlanta, the grocery bike delivery service extends to surrounding neighborhoods including Chosewood Park, High Point Estates, Lakewood Heights, Peoplestown and Villages of Carver.

“One of our learning lessons within the first few months is that our shoppers who walk to and from the market limit themselves to buying only what they’re able to comfortably carry,” said FCS Director of Economic Development and long-time neighborhood resident Jeff Delp. “By offering the home delivery service, what may have been purchased across three separate trips to the market can now be purchased in just one. Our goal has always been to provide convenient access to the market’s healthy food options, and the grocery bike delivery service is one more way we’re fulfilling that.”

Since the grand opening of the market on Saturday, May 16, 2015, the store has sold more than 25,000 goods and welcomed more than 6,000 shoppers to the store. This initiative is a stepping stone to a larger vision for the Carver Neighborhood Market – one where online ordering and delivery will be a reality.

The Carver Neighborhood Market is part of the South Atlanta Marketplace and located at 1297 Jonesboro Road, Atlanta, GA 30315. For more information, visit www.carvermarket.com, or join the community on Facebook and Twitter.

About Focused Community Strategies

Focused Community Strategies (FCS) partners with underserved neighborhoods to provide innovative and holistic development that promotes flourishing communities where God’s shalom is present. FCS is a team of visionaries and social entrepreneurs, transforming distressed urban neighborhoods through Christian community development. For more than 30 years, FCS has demonstrated that the most transformative urban ministry is community-based. With an emphasis on neighborhood leadership and a commitment to mixed-income housing development, the FCS strategy yields both social and spiritual vitality as well as economic viability. For more information, visit: www.fcsministries.org.

Media Contact

Ashley Biondich

Office: 404-949-3777 x492

Cell: 404-444-7225


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The Family that Bikes Together

by FCS Ministries on

by Andrej Ciho, Director of the South Atlanta Bike Shop  

Youth at the South Atlanta Bike Shop earn points for their work, which they can use to purchase a bike. It’s been quite a successful and empowering setup, and over the years, we’ve watched teens proudly purchase their own set of wheels.


It didn’t take long for youth to realize they can use their points for acquiring bicycles not just for themselves. One fun outcome to watch has been how they started to purchase bikes for family members and friends.


Below is a photo of Kiwadi, whose work in the Bike Shop allowed him to purchase a bike for his mother, so they could ride together. What a gift!




When you invest in youth, you are automatically connected into their network of family and friends. And this is a really good thing. Of course we work hard for our youth development program to create meaningful, mentoring relationships. But programs or staff will not and should not replace parents. Our desire is to support parents in their role in their children’s lives.


This moment - watching a young man purchase a bike so he and his mom can be active together - is a beautiful picture. We hope the South Atlanta Bike Shop can support deeper relationships and active lifestyles for families in our community. In this case, the empowerment to earn and purchase a bicycle helped to do just that.


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A Summer to Remember!

by FCS Ministries on

The thermometer may seem stuck in the 90’s, but it hasn’t slowed down the youth of South Atlanta this summer! June and July have been action-packed and memorable thanks to enthusiastic volunteers and generous donors.  



What are some of the highlights from this summer? Pool parties, basketball tournaments, in-depth Bible Studies, bike rides, and more! Youth have been able to bond with each other, connect with staff, and make active, healthy choices this summer.




A great source of joy for the kids has been trips outside of the city. With partners like Camp Grace and God’s Farm, South Atlanta youth have experienced camp life filled with lake swimming, canoeing, mosquitoes, campfires, and starry nights.




We’re giving a big shout out to all our committed youth workers, ministry partners, and faithful donors who have made this summer possible. Thank you for creating a safe place for our youth to explore, learn, and experience summer in new ways.




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Watch Our Story on PBS!

by FCS Ministries on

We recently had the honor to share our story on PBS. Religion & Ethics Newsweekly featured Bob Lupton and FCS in July 2015. It was a joy to work with their team and to share an inside peak into our community, businesses, and housing programs.  

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If you missed the live version, check out the video below!



If you'd like to hear more from Bob Lupton, check out his new book: Charity Detox.

To support the work of FCS, please consider a donation. You can give here.




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The Tricky Business of Giving

by FCS Ministries on


By Bob Lupton

"My husband and I have the gift of giving," a soft-spoken, grey haired lady shared with me following a speech I had just given on the unintended consequences of charity. I could tell something was bothering her. Probably something I had said.

"We love to serve," she said. "We enjoy helping our neighbors - like driving our handicapped neighbor to his doctor's appointments and mowing the lawn for the elderly widow lady next door. And we don't want to be paid for doing this. We try to refuse their money, but they always insist. We really want to give. Accepting pay robs us of the joy of giving. But we're not sure what to do."

The gift of giving - what a wonderful attribute! A generous spirit. Why would anyone resist it? Generosity is a virtue that flows from a rightly motivated heart. So why the resistance from this lady's neighbors? Why do they insist on paying her and her husband for car rides and grass cutting? Can they not see that this couple derives genuine joy from their selfless acts of service?

It's a baffling predicament. When this couple practices their gift of giving, the recipients of their gifts somehow end up the losers. Their disabled neighbor already feels the loss of mobility since he can no longer drive himself to the doctor's office, but being dependent on others to shuttle him - well, that's an even bigger loss. It's not too difficult to understand why he would insist on paying for the service. At least he retains the dignity of financially carrying his own weight. And the widow next door? You can see why she wants to pay for the lawn mowing rather than be her neighbors' charity case. No one wants to be the object of pity.

To give well, to give without diminishing the recipient, proves a bit more complicated than one would imagine at first glance. An ancient Chinese proverb puts an interesting twist on this dilemma: "It is the burden of the receiver to forgive the giver of a gift." 

It seems like a Catch-22 - damned if you do and damned if you don't. Certainly, we could denounce those who give with self-serving motives - like public praise or ego gratification. Jesus confronted this kind of giving when he cautioned his disciples to avoid doing their almsgiving publicly "to be seen by men." Temporary ego indulgence is all the reward that sort of giving yields. "Don't let your left hand know what your right hand gives." Jesus' hyperbole offers a corrective to impure motives. Give anonymously. Don't let anyone know.

But as best I could tell, it was not ego-gratification that motivated this woman and her husband. Their motives seemed purer than that. They appeared to have a deep desire - a calling almost - to genuinely care for others. But how to do it in ways that did diminish or obligate or demean - that was the challenge they wrestled with.

The lady was quite familiar with Jesus' admonition to do good deeds privately. But this didn't seem to apply in their case, given the very visible service she and her husband were providing to their immediate neighbors. I had to agree. And besides, it wasn't that her neighbors didn't appreciate the service. It's just that they always insisted on paying. And that took the joy out of it for the couple.

"So whose joy is this about?" I asked at the risk of offending this good-hearted woman. Well, she responded, she and her husband certainly intended to be a blessing to their neighbors. And their services did seem to be gratefully received, particularly when neighbors were paying for them. Yes, she affirmed, these acts of kindness seemed to be a genuine blessing, very convenient, and affordable. And there was no loss of dignity when their neighbors paid for the services. As a matter of fact, being able to hire someone to perform these tasks was rather empowering.

If service is primarily about enhancing those being served (rather than primarily for the joy of the servers), then mutual exchange rather than one-way giving becomes the higher value. Maimonides (1138-1204), known as the greatest Jewish philosopher of the medieval period, enunciated in the Talmud eight distinct levels of charitable giving. The lowest level of charity (to be avoided whenever possible) is giving directly to a person in need. This produces shame. The highest level is providing employment in a way that doesn't make the recipient feel subordinate. This is partnership. Charity at its best is mutual exchange that produces mutual satisfaction.

The joy of giving is more than feeling good about well-intentioned acts of service. It goes deeper than that. It finds its true fulfillment when it produces as much joy in the spirit of the recipient as it does in the heart of the giver.

Image credit: Brandon Warren