Ann Graham Price
Wednesday, May 31, 2006

HOOFDDORP, Netherlands (Mennonite Mission Network) – Slips of colored paper form bright rows along the posterboards that line the walls. More multicolored pieces of paper pile up on a table where members of Haarlemmermeer Mennonite Church have gathered to reflect on treasures they’ve discovered in the surrounding neighborhood of Hoofddorp, Netherlands. A similar list of treasures within their own congregation has been collected and arrayed on other pieces of posterboard.

Until the congregation undertook this research, led by Mennonite Mission Network researcher Jackie Wyse along with Dutch co-workers Gerrit Jan Romeijn and Jaap de Graaff, church members were less aware there were already so many good things happening in their midst and in the surrounding community.

Building on existing strengths is a key concept in the curriculum Wyse developed, “Digging for Treasure in Your Own Back Yard: Missional Possibilities for Congregations,” based on three years of research she recently completed for the Dutch Mennonite Mission Board.

“One of the biggest surprises came when church members did an inventory of their congregation,” Wyse said. “Often congregations get exhausted by the thought that there’s so much to do. They think they’re not doing enough.

“When we made this list, it was really interesting to see how many very concrete connections and networks there already were,” she said. “Their inventory of what’s already happening seemed to energize them.”

Examples might include quilting groups, Bible studies and concerts hosted by the church for the entire community.

“Digging for Treasure” is designed to help congregations develop a vision for local outreach within their own neighborhoods. “The course does not offer a specific result,” Wyse said. “This isn’t, ‘How to become missional in seven easy steps.’”

What it does is help congregations develop ways those existing strengths can be brought together in fresh, creative new ways. The course can be applied to any congregation in any context, she said, because it uses basic principles to help a congregation get in touch with its context.

According to those who have worked with it, the curriculum is valuable because it offers people results they can actually see. It isn’t just theoretical.

“People’s enthusiasm for the project really started when they went out into the neighborhoods and gathered information,” said  Romeijn, who will continue to work with congregations once Wyse completes her portion of the project. 

“You can talk about demographics and God’s mission, but people need to experience the reality of their own neighborhoods,” Romeijn said. “People have been made aware of the things they see every day and take for granted. They see that they really are treasures.”

The next step will be to help the congregation think about how to connect those existing strengths in exciting new ways.

Romeijn said the process is not something that a church can work through in a short period of time. It’s important to allow time between each phase of the process for reflection.

“We don’t want congregations to think they have to be organized before they begin the process,” he said. “It’s not about doing different things. It’s about doing things differently.  It’s a different approach to the same neighborhood to make it a better neighborhood.”

Since the curriculum was developed in March, five congregations in the Netherlands have demonstrated interest in pursuing it. The Haarlemmermeer Mennonite Church is scheduled to complete the course in June.

For more information about the curriculum, contact Wyse at

Wyse is a member of Lockport Mennonite Church in Strycker, Ohio. Read more about her life in Almere on her online blog.

 

 

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