ASU Lodestar Center Blog

Current nonprofit sector research and recommendations for effective day-to-day practice from ASU faculty, staff, students, and the nonprofit and philanthropic community.

Thursday, November 19, 2020 - 11:05am


Illustration by Jocelyn Ruiz

posted by
Jeffrey Salisbury
Spring 2020 Alumnus, ASU Master of Nonprofit Leadership & Management

Collectively, churches comprise the largest segment of the nonprofit sector in America. They also represent the largest accumulation of assets and human capital. Moreover, the Church is diverse: racially, geographically, vocationally, socio-economically. Their potential to impact significantly our social challenges is extraordinary.

Collective Impact is a methodology designed to facilitate cross-sector collaborations in order to move the needle on important issues. Kania and Kramer developed the methodology to correct the practice of isolated intervention, choosing instead diverse partnerships aligned around shared goals. Collective Impact is a helpful framework to organize churches to affect change in their cities.

God loves cities. In fact, He encourages His followers to seek the welfare of the places in which they live (Jeremiah 29:7). He promises as cities flourish, His people dwelling within will also flourish. The Bible is replete with God’s commands to proclaim good news, heal the sick, comfort the downtrodden, feed the hungry, and to care for orphans and widows. The gospel is a verbal message of salvation demonstrated through acts of God’s love. Obeying these commands pursues the common good of a city and its people.

Unfortunately, the division between churches often mirror the broken system they are trying to alleviate. Collective Impact is a place-based methodology conceived to affect large scale change. The framework unites groups within a geographic location by shifting focus from that which divides toward that which unites, a common mission. While the framework allows each entity to remain true to its institutional identity, it also provides the organizational model necessary to scale impact.

Collective Impact requires collaborating organizations to:

  1. Identify a common goal: Understand a problem and the pathway to solve it together.
  2. Commit to a shared measurement system: Common metrics hold the cohort accountable and informs future action.
  3. Participate in mutually reinforcing activities: Harness strengths and mitigate weakness by pursuing complementary activity consistent with an organization’s mission and the common goal shared by all.
  4. Communicate continuously: Avoid proclivity toward competition. Communicate openly and timely.
  5. Coordinate efforts through a backbone support organization: Facilitate, convene, coordinate, mobilize .

These core functions shape the methodology’s foundation. In every locale in which it is used, participating entities should adapt its application to its particular context. The first step to local adaptation is involving affected populations in the community’s story of change. By design, the Church thrives in this environment. There, in the community, they forge flourishing relationships in the love of Christ as they serve and care humbly for neighbors in need.

Church leaders desiring to engage their city more effectively should take intentional steps to pursue Collective Impact.

  1. Pursue ecumenical relationships focused upon the mission that unites rather than doctrinal differences that divide.
  2. Cultivate a robust theology of the city that mobilizes their congregation to love and serve their city in word and deed.
  3. Value opportunities to learn:
    • Commit to collecting, sharing, & analyzing data to measure impact.
    • Practice the discipline of listening: engage with practitioners and organizations on the front lines.
    • Learn from the past: Reflect upon the context of the American church and its history of engagement in the city, embracing what is fruitful and rejecting what is unjust.
  4. Pursue cross-sector organizations with ecumenical partners to establish the ground work for collective impact. Identify common goals and work with early adopters to develop measurement systems and design mutually reinforcing activities.
  5. Set long-term generation-long goals: Develop short-term goals with the long-term in mind. Collective Impact requires time and faithful endurance.

Cities are complex ecosystems with a broad range of challenges requiring collaborative solutions. Churches are diverse entities with the financial, human, and relational capital required to address significantly a city’s complex challenges. Not only can Christians help forge collaborative partnerships through their networks, but they can also participate in mutually reinforcing activities as they volunteer and support missioned focused agencies to demonstrate Jesus’ love.

Jeff Salisbury is a graduate of the Master of Nonprofit Leadership and Management program at Arizona State University. Salisbury is the Pastor of Community Missions at Bay Leaf Baptist Church in Raleigh, NC. He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in geography and political science from UNC-Chapel Hill and a Master of Divinity from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is passionate about mobilizing the Church to establish cross-sector networks to identify and meet the needs of the city.

For more on topics like this, the ASU Lodestar Center offers Best Skills Best Churches, a training program for church leaders specially designed to meet the needs of communities of faith.

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