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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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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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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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



Blurry Vision, Brain Tricks, and a Book You Need to Read

by FCS Ministries on

By Shawn Duncan I would like to offer a recommendation for Bob Lupton’s new book Charity Detox: What Charity Would Look Like if We Cared About Results.


To tell you why I think this book is so important I first need to talk about a crazy trick your eyes and brain like to pull on you.



First, A Word About Your Brain


Have you ever looked up at a clock and sworn that the second hand lasted for at least two seconds? It's weird, huh?


Good news - you're not crazy! What you are experiencing is your brain's response to a saccade. You see, when your eyes rapidly move from one object to another your brain should register for a blurry image. Instead, your brain instantaneously edits the blur out and replaces it with a duplicate of what your eyes land on. This is what creates the effect of chronostasis - time standing still.


So what I should see is:

my book---then blurry stuff as I look up to the clock---then the second hand lasting a second.


However, my brain does a fancy edit so that what I do see is:

my book---then the second hand---then the second hand again.


So, one second registers as two. I told you you're not crazy (at least not for that reason).


Why am I talking about saccades and chronostasis, and what does it have to do with charity?! Well, just give me a second (or two!) and I'll tell you.


Whether it is with clocks or more serious matters of human relationships and social issues, our brains love to erase blurry complexity and give us simple categories. It makes the world easier to process. Our brains get tired trying to sort through complexity and nuance. This category-creating habit leads to dichotomies, that age-old and too-often exercised assumption that things can be parsed into two contrasting sides.


My point? We need to start embracing the blur.


A commonly accepted dichotomy pits business and ministry against one another. Our acceptance of these simple categories is partly to blame for why the greatness of our investment in charity is not matched with great results.


I know I’m guilty of this! You know…business is about cold numbers and calculations, a ruthless pursuit of the bottom line. Ministry, however, is personal. It's about relationship, compassion and heart. Results is about success and applies to depersonalized business practices. Ministry is about our motivations and intentions, good people giving sacrificially to do good works.


Now, A Word About the Book


What the charity world needs more than ever is people courageous enough to challenge what we think is good about our ministry models and to highlight the redemptive nature of the business practices we have ignored. Dr. Lupton is one of those courageous people. And his latest book, Charity Detox, is the place where he does just that.


I’m not going to summarize the book for you, though you can listen to my interview with Bob about some of its key points (see link at the end). What I am going to do is tell you why I think this book is so important.


In this book Bob asks us one of the most important questions concerning our charity efforts: do we care about results?


In other words: Are we interested in seeing families thrive or are we just interested in distributing resources to them? Are we content measuring volunteer activity or do we actually want to measure outcomes?


Dr. Lupton, speaking from forty years of experience in neighborhood experiencing poverty, is compassionate enough to tell us the bad news about traditional models of charity - they are not moving the poverty needle. People, families, and communities are not being moved out of poverty through our service efforts, programs, and mission trips.


But, thankfully, the book does not leave you there. Actually, only one chapter states the problem. The rest of the book moves you through a story that is as challenging as it is compelling revealing that there is a better way. Using some of the best practices of business that are successfully being applied in contexts of poverty, this book shows how we can chart a new course…and actually make a difference!


If you want to see families experiencing poverty thrive, are willing to face the hard truths about ineffective models and are eager to learn about better paradigms, this book is for you!


Charity Detox Interview - Bob Lupton



Thirty Minutes to a Deeper Understanding of Poverty

by FCS Ministries on

There's so many great books out there to understanding poverty and community development and more. (In fact, we recently put together a list of Smart Charity resources that included a few great ones!) But in the pace of everyday life, sometimes books stack up on the nightstand before they're moved to the bookshelf where they live forevermore. And maybe we never actually read it.  




So if you're finding yourself a bit time crunched or are a person who prefers an aural learning style, you'll enjoy today's list. Below are three videos - all approximately 30 minutes - that take a deeper look at issues affecting poor communities.


#1 - Gary Haugen: The hidden reason for poverty the world needs to address now


#2 - Bryan Stevenson of the Equal Justice Initiative speaks on injustices in the criminal justice system and the importance of proximity in serving vulnerable populations.


#3 - Angela Blanchard of Neighborhood Centers Inc. encourages listeners to dream bigger and to understand and develop community assets.


Hope you enjoy these videos. Please feel free to share your own favorite video resources in the comments!

Image credit: Steve Jurvetson


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How to Say Good-bye to a Legacy Program

by FCS Ministries on

by Jim Wehner  

This past year, FCS has faced the reality that two of our longtime programs were not producing the results we so often discuss and demand of other organizations. Make no mistake, these are important programs. When we talk about the work of FCS, these two legacy programs are often part of the discussion. But what do we do when our beloved programs have lived (or even outlived) their time?




Some of you reading may be already saying, “just shut them down!” But as a leader of a nonprofit, I can tell you there are competing voices from all the invested parties in a legacy program.


1. Staff (or congregation) - Getting a group of passionate, justice oriented community developers to agree on the right the plan of action is a feat in itself! Many of our staff have devoted their lives to what they do. They encounter Christ in the margins where we have chosen to serve. Mess with those margins, and you may be stepping on their very faith. Ouch!


2. Neighbors - The most obvious adjustment of our legacy programs is the fact that we are changing, reducing, or restructuring our services to people we love! My experience is that, when we do this, our neighbors speak up. In my most honest moments, I admit I would rather maintain an outdated, toxic program than leave our neighbors with nothing.


3. The Bible - As Christians, our fundraising and program stories often include Scripture. Jesus speaks of the “least of these” and the programs we run are designed to build them up in Christ’s name! With that foundation, how on earth do I communicate that we are no longer offering the program? You get it, right? It’s not that this program is somehow designed to work into eternity, but when you connect its purpose to the eternal Word of God, people never think about it failing, or even coming to an end.


4. Donors - Let’s face it - legacy programs connect us to a support structure. Whether it’s real or imagined, there is a risk of losing funders that were connected to that specific program. It’s a rare nonprofit leader that can ignore this reality.


Of course, none of these voices alone make it worth maintaining a program that destroys dignity or builds dependency. But when these voices combine, it can push the strongest leader or organization to question motives and intentions.


So how do we do it?  Here are four elements we’ve included in our transitions at FCS:


1. Start the conversations. - You have to begin to talk with staff and neighbors about the program, its effectiveness, and ideas. Listen to them, and let them tell you what they think. These conversations take time. With the two programs FCS closed, the process took more than a year in both cases. The staff grudgingly came around and even began to lead the discussion with the recipients. Strong leadership will engage the multiple voices listed above.


2. Gather your data. - Get the history of the legacy program down in writing. What is the key issue this program is designed to solve? Is it still solving that issue or has it morphed? Both our programs were more that 20 years old, and they had experienced multiple changes over time.


3. Celebrate the successes. - Once you have done the work of naming the legacy, you will be able to give it the honor it deserves. You can legitimately celebrate the great work that has been done - changed lives, faith stories, and God-sightings are all part of its story. As you celebrate, you are also reminding people of the reason the program was created and setting the stage for its transformation.


4. Launch a quality replacement program. - If you are exploring the option of implementing an alternative program, gather a group of experts to help you shape that program.  Ministries often start new programs after praying and feeling a sense of calling, but they rarely ask those who have expertise to help them. Creating a high-quality program to replace your legacy program will ease the transition as well.


In the last year, FCS closed its transitional housing facility and its thrift shop. The transitional housing was a 64-unit apartment complex that helped people transition out of homelessness and brokenness. It was a great program. Unfortunately, over its 28 years of operation, it had become burdened with issues of building maintenance.  FCS was simply unable to sustain its operation, so we made the heartbreaking decision to close it.


We raised the money to hire a case manager, and we relocated every family that wanted our assistance. Now, eight months later, we are in the process of rehabbing 12 houses in our focus neighborhood and trying to acquire 12 more for 2016. There is no way we could do this work while bearing the financial weight of maintaining a dilapidated apartment complex that was no longer serving families well.


The thrift shop simply lost its steam. Yes, it was providing clothing at a low cost, but we didn’t feel it was building dignity into the lives of our customers or community. It wasn’t that it was a failure, we just knew we could do something more transformative in the neighborhood. We also had another organization opening up a thrift store near ours. When we were honest with ourselves, we felt they were more strongly positioned to do this ministry.


So we asked the neighborhood what they would like to see in that space rather than a thrift store. As of last month, you can now shop at the Carver Neighborhood Grocery. The grocery provides affordable and healthy food options to a neighborhood considered a food desert. We now employ five young people from the neighborhood, and they are learning transferable skills they can use in the broader marketplace one day.  And to top it off, we have a growing partnership with another organization!


Saying good-bye to programs that have been meaningful to staff, the community, and supporters is no easy task. Change always comes with its challenges, but it's also full of new beginnings. We are excited about the current work happening at FCS. By making the decision to change, we have written a new future for FCS and the neighborhood we serve!


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Charity Detox by FCS Founder Robert D. Lupton on Sale July 7

by FCS Ministries on

Proven strategies for transforming charitable giving revealed in follow up to Toxic Charity  

ATLANTA – June 9, 2015 – As a veteran urban activist, Focused Community Strategies (FCS) Founder Robert D. Lupton has been at the forefront of urban ministry for more than forty years. In his decades of experience transforming underserved neighborhoods to flourishing communities, he has learned first-hand through trial and error what really works, what does not, and what makes things worse.


Americans like to give, and our charitable organizations are some of the largest in the world. But, in his revolutionary book, Toxic Charity (first published 2011), Lupton revealed the truth that while modern charity programs are meant to help the poor, they are largely ineffectual in moving the poverty needle. American churches are at the forefront of this massive industry based on compassion – spending billions on programs such as food pantries, clothes closets and mission trips. These programs inadvertently establish dependency and turn people into beggars. While charity makes donors feel better, Lupton argues, it often hurts the people it is designed to help.


In his new book, Charity Detox: What Charity Would Look Like If We Cared About Results (HarperOne; July 2015), Lupton asks: What would charity look like if we asked for results – if an organization was measured by its ability to actually alleviate poverty and solve the problem it was founded to address? The truth is, few of us expect or ask about results. But, the hard reality is, it takes more than compassionate hearts and generous gifts to elevate people in need out of poverty. We cannot serve others out of poverty; we have to provide them with the resources they need to make true and lasting change in their lives. Lupton argues that the most effective method for doing so is economic development that creates jobs.


In Charity Detox, Lupton shares many strategies that have been proven to revolutionize what we can do with charity dollars. He outlines how to structure programs that actually improve the quality of life of the poor and disenfranchised, and offers numerous examples of organizations that have successfully adopted these groundbreaking new models. He concludes the book by sharing seven steps for exploring untapped economic opportunities and increasing prosperity:

  1. Encourage religious tourism.
  2. Stop undercutting local businesses by distributing suitcases full of donated clothing, shoes, candy, etc.
  3. Support local self-sufficiency by offering technical training.
  4. Provide business loans to entrepreneurs.
  5. Invest with locals in for-profit businesses.
  6. Hire unemployed/underemployed workers.
  7. Start for-profit businesses that employ local residents.


Charity Detox shows that by redirecting strategies and becoming committed to results, charity enterprises can become truly as transformative as the ideals behind their existence. Every church or service organization in America seeking a model for charity-related efforts will find the advice in this book invaluable. Additionally, the criteria outlined will offer a guide for donors looking to find the right charities and ministries they want to support financially.


To preorder your copy of Charity Detox, visit www.fcsministries.org/charitydetox.


About the Author

Robert D. Lupton is the founder of Focused Community Strategies through which he has developed two mixed-income subdivisions, organized a multiracial congregation, started a number of businesses, created housing for hundreds of families, and initiated a wide range of human services in his community. Lupton is the author of Toxic Charity, Theirs Is the Kingdom, Return Flight, Renewing the City, Compassion, Justice and the Christian Life, and the widely circulated “Urban Perspectives,” monthly reflections on the Gospel and the poor. World Magazine named Toxic Charity runner-up for best book of the year in 2011. It also won the 2013 Silver Nautilus Award. Lupton has a Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Georgia.


About Focused Community Strategies

Focused Community Strategies partners with underserved neighborhoods to provide innovative and holistic development that promotes flourishing communities where God’s Shalom is present. Focused Community Strategies is a team of visionaries and social entrepreneurs, transforming distressed urban neighborhoods through Christian community development. For more than 30 years, Focused Community Strategies 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, Focused Community Strategies yields both social and spiritual vitality as well as economic viability. For more information, visit: www.fcsministries.org.


Media Contacts

Ashley Biondich, Public Relations for FCS

Office: 404-949-3777 x492

Cell: 404-444-7225



Renée Senogles, Public Relations for Charity Detox

Office: 415-477-4476




7 Resources for Smart Charity

by FCS Ministries on

Whether you're just starting to ask questions about your ministry models or whether you're a seasoned "smart charity" practitioner, resources are always valuable. Maybe you've already read Toxic Charity or When Helping Hurts. We've put together a list of some more favorite books and resources we hope will benefit you as you seek to offer compassion and dignity to the poor.  

#1 - Restoring At-Risk Communities: Doing It Together and Doing It Right

This proven handbook from John M. Perkins is a great resource full of encouragement and wisdom for those working to a establish a community development strategy for their community.

#2 - From Dependence to Dignity: How To Alleviate Poverty through Church-Centered Microfinance

If we consider the international Church, many of our Christian brothers and sisters are suffering crushing poverty. This book considers how the global body of Christ might engage to eliminate poverty in the majority world.

#3 - Where the Cross Meets the Street: What Happens to the Neighborhood When God Is at the Center 

Noel Castellanos, CEO of the Christian Community Development Association, focuses on the power of the cross to transform individuals and communities.

#4 - Helping Without Hurting in Church Benevolence: A Practical Guide to Walking with Low-Income People

This practical guide was written by the authors of When Helping Hurts to support churches addressing immediate needs while also seeking long-term solutions.

#5 - Confronting Suburban Poverty in America

Poverty is shifting. It is no longer relegated to only urban and rural communities. This book unpacks the challenges and offers workable recommendations for addressing growing suburban poverty.

#6 - The Chalmers Center

The Chalmers Center is a research and training organization that equips churches around the world to empower people who are poor. Check out their website for videos and more resources.

#7 - Stop Calling It "Short Term Missions." Here's What You Should Call It Instead.

With summer fast upon us, this article helps provide language for our various combinations of service and travel that fill our summer calendars.

This is a list to get you started. We've got more ideas, but we'd love to hear yours, too!

Feel free to add your favorite titles or articles in the comments!



Robert Lupton’s New Book, Charity Detox

by FCS Ministries on

Founder of Focused Community Strategies, Robert D. Lupton, has been at the forefront of urban ministry activism for 40 years. In that time, he has come to one conclusion: most charity work is either ineffective or, worse, hurts the people that it is trying to help. charitydetox400-385x580 (1)

In his new book, Charity Detox, he reveals the shockingly toxic effects that modern charity has upon the very people meant to benefit from it, and presents proven methods for serving the needy members of our communities in a way that will lead to lasting, real-world change.


Click here to learn more about Charity Detox.


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Behind the Curtain: Focused Community Strategies

by FCS Ministries on

By Jim Wehner It is no secret that Focused Community Strategies is a development organization. For us, that means that we focus on development as opposed to relief. It also means we are often swimming against the stream of traditional charity.


Most charity in the U.S. is based on a relief (or give-away) paradigm. We think this is the right way to deal with crisis need. A quick influx of resources to provide housing, food, water, clothing, and financial aid can meet needs for a short time, allowing those we serve to recover from a crisis. We are always blessed to see friends and neighbors giving generously to support others in crisis moments.


But that response is not what Focused Community Strategies aims to do. Our niche is working with chronic need and social injustice as it impacts the neighborhoods we serve. We have learned over time that answering chronic need with relief-oriented charity ends in dependence rather than empowerment. Ultimately, it hurts those we desire to serve.


To help us stay the course, FCS created an internal document that guides how we do development. We use it at both the board and staff level to help us make smart development decisions. This document changes as we adjust and grow in our thinking. Here are a couple of principles from that document:


1. Work in partnership, which is essential to transformative, holistic community development.


Before we take on a new program in our focus neighborhood, we ask the question, Is there someone we can partner with that is already doing this well?


For instance, on our latest program - a small grocery store - we first went to traditional groceries to ask if they would come into the neighborhood. When they declined, we gathered a group of professionals in the grocery industry and asked them to help us develop a model for our small market. Partnership brings more resources and relationships to the neighborhood than we can bring alone.


2. Ensure goals and priorities are truly shared by putting the interests of the neighborhood above organizational self-interests.


This balance is extremely difficult to manage. Both FCS and our focus neighborhood have dreams and agendas. FCS has a clear, strategic plan that includes ideas we have for the neighborhood.


One of the ways we promote shared interests is by having staff live in the neighborhood, as well as having neighborhood representatives on the FCS board. We do this with a great amount of care.


Our neighborhood-based staff members have to live in the tension of being a neighbor while also participating in an organization that is trying to help the neighborhood develop. At the board level, it takes the right neighbor that can participate in healthy board-level debate.


We have seen neighborhood residents take the position of gatekeeper for the neighborhood and restrict the work of the board. These instances are painful, and they require a board to be skillful and gracious. Once again, this is a tension we choose to accept and live out as an organization.


3. Limit one-way giving to crises and seek always to find ways for legitimate exchange.


When there is a crisis in the neighborhood - such as a house burning down, the death of a family member, or a job loss - FCS will gladly step in and help. But we have learned that the best crisis response often comes from within the neighborhood itself.


A block is strengthened when neighbors watch out for neighbors! So, though we are often the first to receive a call when their is a crisis, we are rarely the first to respond. We will prayerfully wait and watch. Ultimately, if we are the “right” responder, we will step in. But this happens less than you might think.


4. Seek ways to empower by hiring, lending, and investing and offer gifts sparingly as incentives to reinforce achievements.


This is where we love to work!  Building small businesses that provide jobs and meaning to the lives of individuals. Creating opportunities through well-placed investment in someone’s life. These investments come with real accountability that builds trust over time and allows a person or organization to flourish.


Some folks think that we can be harsh when we talk about the issues around toxic charity. After all, Jesus would never say, “no” to someone in need would he?


Isn’t it interesting that the writer of the fourth gospel, John, tells us that Jesus was exercising his love for Mary and Martha when he made them wait two days before coming to their side at the death of their brother, Lazarus? In the same way, we want to listen and respond carefully and in ways that best show our love for our neighbors.


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How to Recognize Smart Charity

by FCS Ministries on

Most of us want to create programs that alleviate poverty and support families struggling day-to-day. We do not intend to create toxic programming that produces dependency or promotes unhealthy power-based relationships. If you’ve read When Helping Hurts or Toxic Charity, you have seen examples of how some well-intentioned work can lead to disaster while other programs promote dignity and community.  


However, when you come across a new initiative or are evaluating a ministry of your church for the first time, it can be difficult to determine if the work is toxic or smart charity. To help out, we’re offering 5 questions based on Bob Lupton’s characteristics of smart charity:

Who is giving?

In a smart charity model, everyone has something to contribute. There is dignity in creating space for the poor to collaborate in addressing a need. It may manifest through leadership participation, affordable payments, or sweat equity, but everyone should be allowed and expected to participate. Relationships where one side is giving while the other is receiving can have negative consequences down the line.

What are people saying?

If a missions team says a project was a success, that is only half the story. It’s crucial to listen to feedback from those hosting the teams and receiving the services. The conversations must be delicate since power dynamics, flow of resources, and cultural communication can all affect responses.

Does it make sense?

We might launch initiatives as a heart response, but projects should make head sense, too. One way to see is to imagine the program in a different context. If a neighbor in a wealthy suburb had fallen on hard times one Christmas, would it make sense for you to buy all her kids’ Christmas presents, wrap them, and go over to open them with them?

What is the outcome?

It’s true that some goals of charity organizations can be hard to measure. But sometimes, metrics are a challenge because there’s no clear goal or pathway to reach it. For example, if a community is struggling with food insecurity, simply handing out food every week is not really addressing that problem. While it might be a necessary stop gap, charities must analyze their impact on the issue they address.

Is the work part of a whole?

Beware the word “just.” If these kids just had help with their homework, they could go to college and leave poverty. Simplistic solutions ignore the complexity of poverty and the interconnectedness of life. While this statement doesn’t mean an after-school program is unnecessary, it does limit its effectiveness. Smart charity would partner with other groups effecting change in the local schools, funding college scholarships, and supporting students who do attend higher ed through the transition, for starters.

While no one organization or group can do everything required to support families, develop a community, or eliminate poverty, smart charity is an important first step. The more we can mitigate harmful consequences and create truly beneficial programs, the more our communities can thrive.

Image source: Sacca



Is There A Silver Bullet to Ending Poverty?

by FCS Ministries on

By Jim Wehner

“How do we get started in our neighborhood?” It’s a question we hear often at FCS. People want to do good. They want to see neighborhoods transformed and poverty eliminated, and they are heavily invested in the mission of their organization and/or their community.

They may have researched community development or studied neighborhoods where the community turned a corner after a local school got new leadership or a business found success or a housing development thrived. When we’ve seen solutions that work, we are often eager to apply them in our context. We want to find that program or initiative that will unleash the change we desire so deeply for our communities.

After five neighborhoods and 38 years of ministry, FCS is often approached by enthusiastic, passionate practitioners eager to learn from our experience. In fact, three times a year we have between 50-80 people come visit FCS to learn how we “do” neighborhood-based community development.

Our experience has taught us, however, that poverty alleviation can be an elusive goal. And unfortunately, no silver bullet program exists. Our work in the neighborhood of East Lake, for example, was connected with the development of a local golf course. Now we are focused on Historic South Atlanta, where the company with the biggest swath of land is a towing company. What works well in one neighborhood is not guaranteed to work in the next.

Universal Principles

So the strategies and solutions we need in a new neighborhood must be new. Still, we cannot and do not toss out everything we have learned about addressing urban poverty as there are important tenets that remain the same. Here are three valuable practices we have applied in every community where we have worked:

#1 A "give away" paradigm does more harm than good. Countless books and examples exist to show charity programs that not only fail to relieve poverty, but produce dependence rather than freedom. We cannot solve chronic need with crisis (“give away”) response.

#2 Thinklong-term. In community development, long-term solutions are needed to answer chronic need. There will be short-term wins along the way, but true development simply has a longer timeframe than most of us assume at the beginning.

#3 Different neighborhoods demand different solutions. It’s not that neighborhoods are headstrong or resistant to all change, but their uniqueness requires custom strategies. Housing needs and solutions for one neighborhood may be different for an adjacent community. When you recognize this nuance and add flexibility to your process, your programs can be more successful.

Getting Started

Back to the original question, “Is there a silver bullet to ending poverty?” If the answer is no, then where do groups and organizations begin in their efforts to bring change? We recommend some simple ideas:

#1 Become a neighbor. Proximity transforms how you answer questions within a neighborhood. If you don’t live there, it’s very hard to build long-term solutions or identify the root of issues in the community. Not everyone in your organization or group needs to move in, but you ought to have clear neighborhood representation on your team.

#2 Listen first. Listening is one of the most important things on your task list. Build authentic relationships and participate in neighborhood events. Join in the local activities that are already addressing needs you experience as a member of the community, rather than issues you saw from the outside.

#3 Do not lead. Support others in the neighborhood rather than assuming a leadership role. This advice is especially important if you represent a demographic different than the neighborhood.

There is still a need for partnership and collaboration to bring lasting transformation to local neighborhoods. Some areas, including housing and economic development (jobs/businesses), require specific skill sets and capital investment that a neighborhood might need to draw from partner resources. When organizations work with community voices, they can discover together the most important needs of the neighborhood and the solutions that will help them reach their goals together.

There is no silver bullet to ending poverty. Neighborhood-based development demands long term community-focused commitment.

Photo credit: Christy Taylor



5 Loaves and 25 Tons of Food

by katiedelp on

By Katie Delp Jesus feeds the five thousand. It’s a story I’ve known almost my whole life. Five loaves. Two fishes. Yet Jesus instructs the disciples to distribute the food among the large crowd until everyone is fed. The math doesn’t compute, but God is able to work miracles with one boy’s generosity.




As our pastor preached on this story last Sunday, he encouraged us to reflect on times when we have see God miraculously transform a situation beyond expectations. Maybe beyond rationality. My mind immediately remembered our South Atlanta food co-operative.


A couple of years ago, I realized through some interactions with neighbors that some families in my community were struggling to put food on the table every night. I was not alone. Some fellow co-laborers in the neighborhood were hearing the same message. We were concerned and wanted to help.


Few folks know how to offer people access to food while maintaining their dignity better than our friends at Urban Recipe. I love their food co-operative model that allows a group of families to pay into a pot and receive needed food in return. Co-op members have responsibilities and roles, and donations subsidize the cost of the food.


Together, our small band of concerned neighbors was able to quietly raise the funds to start the food co-op in our community. Two years later, fifty low-income families from South Atlanta meet twice a month to receive food and stock their shelves.


I love the food co-operative program and the dignity it maintains for recipients as they become food secure. But there was another miracle of God tucked away behind the scenes. I have constantly been amazed that while only five households of modest income give to the food co-op, there is always enough each year to provide over twenty-five tons of food for these fifty families.


The math just doesn’t add up. Still, like Christ’s feeding of the five thousand, God is able to work miracles beyond our expectations. In our “five loaves and two fishes” generosity, there is always enough for everyone.


Will you join FCS as we watch God provide resources, dignity, and transformation in our community? Your generosity is always appreciated and goes further than you can ever imagine.





Image credit: the justified sinner


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Partner Highlight: Atlanta Harvest

by FCS Ministries on

We believe strongly in collaboration with others implementing innovative solutions. One creative partner in our Historic South Atlanta community is Atlanta Harvest. They have started a revolutionary urban farm in an abandoned lot in the neighborhood. 


We are excited to build a “Food Oasis” in our community, and Atlanta Harvest is a vital partner in this work. Not only are they seeking to provide local jobs, but they are growing quality produce right in the neighborhood! 

Check out their work in this short video:

One way we’ve already been able to work together (as mentioned in the video) is they provide lettuce for sandwiches at Community Grounds. Going forward, they will be our greens supplier for Carver Market


We’re excited about the great work happening in South Atlanta and the opportunities for more jobs and better food.  


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To the Next Generation of Community Developers

by katiedelp on

By Katie Delp I knew during college that I wanted to pursue a life committed to service, justice, and community development. After graduating from Texas Tech with a degree in business degree, I had decided to spend a year working and living in Atlanta with Mission Year.


Even though that service program was only a year, I always knew I wanted to be in this for the long haul. Fifteen years later, I am still working and living in Atlanta, trying to pursue a life committed to service, justice, and community development.


Image credit: Doug


At FCS, I often hear from young adults with similar passions and eagerness that I had during college. As I reflect on the ways I joined in this life, I know there were a few things that have supported and sustained me throughout the years.


Move in with a community.


You’ll have insider knowledge into the assets and challenges of a community when you live there. However, moving into the city alone (or even with a few friends) can be challenging to sustain. Find a program or a group of people already living in the neighborhood to join in with for support and greater impact.


Participate in church.


Connecting to a faith community helps keep you rooted and can offer support and inspiration as you live out your values. There is no perfect church for all who move into the neighborhood, but it can be a valuable place to develop relationships and nurture your spirituality.


Develop your skills.


A desire to participate in developing stronger communities is a job requirement. And the work is multi-faceted, requiring skills from many different people. Find out where you are gifted and develop those skills with the neighborhood in mind.


I used a business degree to focus on nonprofit management. I have also seen neighbors offer skills of photography, legal advice, or youth mentorship to the neighborhood. Many of these folks brought their skills to the community outside of their day jobs.


Learn local culture.


As cities continue to grow in diversity, many involved in community development encounter cultures different from their own. Learn from others with backgrounds similar to those represented in your community to help you understand your context in new ways. Some starter ideas include reading different authors and bloggers, watching films, and attending cultural events.


Take it slow.


Community development is long-term work and does not happen overnight. There are benefits to listening first and waiting a year or more before jumping into action or taking on leadership responsibilities. You will earn the respect of neighbors and have a clarified lens through which to make decisions about where to invest your time and energy.


I love the excitement and fresh passion of young adults eager to participate in neighborhood change. In fact, we’d love to meet you and talk more about community transformation at our upcoming Open House.

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How Do We Know If Our Work is Working? Measuring Flourishing Neighborhoods

by FCS Ministries on

There are a couple questions we hear all the time in community-based work like ours. How do you know if your efforts are working? How do you know when you are finished in a community? How do you define success?  

We decided it was time to address these questions head-on. FCS needed a way to measure the effectiveness of our work in meaningful ways.


Flourishing Neighborhoods

We have partnered with the South Atlanta Civic League (SACL) in our target neighborhood of Historic South Atlanta. Together, we are working towards a thriving and flourishing community.


We breakdown the components of a flourishing neighborhood as follows:

• Sense of Place

• Effective, Credible Community Leadership

• Neighborhood-focused Faith

• Meaningful Work and Opportunities

• Mixed-Income Housing Opportunities

• Sustainable Built Enviornment (parks and green spaces, road and walk ways)

• Youth, Families, and Education

• Neighborhood Connectivity


To capture useful data about need and areas for growth, FCS has been conducting surveys among neighborhood residents. Our two incredible interns from Georgia Tech, Brandon and Luke, have been interviewing community members covering the range of topics listed above.


Measuring Community Development Work

Follow-up surveys will be conducted annually to measure the impact of FCS and the SACL’s efforts and development. We are excited for the direction and measurement this survey process will offer as we continue to refine our models and practices for outstanding community development.



Smart Charity

by FCS Ministries on

by Bob Lupton Our world is getting smarter.

We have smart cars that can drive themselves, smart phones that can answer all our questions, smart watches that bring the world to our wrist.  We have SMART planning (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Time-specific) that assures positive outcomes.

We have smart growth that turns our cities into desirable live-work-recreate environments. Seems like everything is getting smarter these days.

DeathtoStock_Creative Community5

We like smart. Smart reflects our creativity, our intelligence. Smart keeps us on the cutting edge of innovation. It makes life safer, convenient, efficient.

In so many ways, smart makes our lives better. But there is one significant arena that smart has yet to impact. Charity.

Sure, some social media enthusiasts take stabs at it, like cause-related flash mobs and media-ignited fund-raisers. But these mostly end up being little more than flash-in-the-pan slacktivism. (Slacktivism is a newly coined word combining “slacker” and “activism” that describes "feel-good" measures, in support of an issue or social cause, that have little or no practical effect other than to make the person doing it feel satisfaction. The acts tend to require minimal personal effort from the slacktivist.)

Smart Charity is something altogether different from slacktivism. It goes far deeper than Twitter hits and Facebook friending. BOGO (buy one give one) charity doesn’t even come close.

Smart Charity is complicated, maybe as complex as rocket science, and has not yet been adequately defined, let alone implemented on any scale. But the discussion has begun.

So let me contribute a few observations that may lend some clarity to the charity industry as it inches its way toward greater effectiveness.

• Smart Charity is about impact – how the served are effected, not just the servers. • Smart Charity is mutually beneficial – everyone has something to contribute • Smart Charity is about outcomes – activity is not the same as results • Smart Charity engages the mind – not merely the heart • Smart Charity is responsible – insists upon due diligence • Smart Charity is wise – rejects simplistic solutions • Smart Charity is comprehensive – understands complexities, the inter-connectedness of life • Smart Charity is holistic – resists piecemeal approaches • Smart Charity is personal – efficiency does not equal effectiveness

Unlike the smart movement that strives to make everything easier and more convenient for us, Smart Charity will likely do the opposite. It will require more effort, be more costly, and consume more time than either the traditional or slacktivist approaches to charity. This is doubtless why the smart industry is so slow in entering the charity market.

The good news is that a new generation of millennials is at least as compassionate as their parent’s generation, and they are beginning to ask the right questions. They appear to be less inclined toward lazy charity (writing checks to fund traditional programs) and much more interested in accountable charity (hands-on, personal involvement). And besides, they are really smart.

There is reason to be hopeful that Smart Charity will eventually become a dominate force in the charity market, edging out the lesser forms that tend to do more harm than good.