Centre of Influence – Linking the church to the community through service
Meeting people’s felt needs so that we can build relationships that will enable us to meet their spiritual needs. That is Christ’s method.
Centre of influence
Ellen White championed an approach to urban mission that she called “centres of influence”. She envisioned small urban wholistic ministry centres linking the church to the community through service.
We must do more than we have done to reach the people of our cities. We are not to erect large buildings in the cities, but over and over again the light has been given me that we should establish in all our cities small plants which shall be centres of influence. (7T, p. 115)
“It is through the social relations that Christianity comes in contact with the world,” she wrote. Urging Adventists to put Christ’s method into action (see the method below), she encouraged them to “strive to place themselves where they will come in direct contact with those needing help.”
In one line: ministering to people in all dimensions of their lives.
Examples of ministries/activities
In these centres, Adventist hope-filled doctrines can fuel a ministry of service. Our people can minister to people in community through different services and ministries on areas such as health, education, and other forms of care and support. Here are some examples:
- Small group support (for different needs: men, women, families, immigrants)
- Teaching and lecturing (managing finances, raising kids)
- Lifestyle education, cooking classes (instructions on preparing wholesome food)
- Literature ministry, bookstores, reading rooms
- Public meetings
- Vegetarian restaurants
- Stores: second-hand stores (charity), health food stores, bookstores
- Music centres, community choirs
- Health: treatment rooms, massage centre, health clinic
- Recreational facilities, games, minding kids
The activities of each centre vary depending on an accurate assessment of local community needs. See dozens of success stories: https://urbancenters.org/news-and-stories-672 (Cuisle Centre in Dublin is listed there also.)
In urban areas, these spaces can be: a rented room, the church hall or a better designed and suitable place. These will vary in shape, size, and sophistication depending on the city. Their look, style, and flavor will be shaped to local situations.
Relation to the church
The church should function as a springboard for community-based ministry. Says Gary Krause, the Adventist Mission leader: “Many churches could provide a base from which to reach out into the community and meet people where they are.” The centre should provide a platform for reaching out and meeting the needs of the surrounding community via long-term, on-the-ground projects. The centres should be seen as locally owned and supported projects.
Although these centres are primarily seed-sowing, they should connect to small groups and urban church planting initiatives. We should (1) minister to people’s physical and spiritual needs, (2) plant new groups of believers, and (3) lead people to Jesus.
Cooperation with others
- Partner with other community groups in their work.
- Invite them to partner with us in our work for the same community.
More social service centres?
Every centre should have a plan to connect people in the community to Adventist small groups and urban church planting initiatives. This is key. We’re not talking about just setting up more social service centres—as important as they are. Our care for the community is never conditional on people becoming Adventists—we’ll still mingle, show sympathy, and minister to needs even if people never show any interest in our beliefs. But it’s our goal to lead people to Jesus and to become baptised members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
- The Saviour mingled among people as One who desired their good.
- He showed sympathy.
- He ministered to people’s needs.
- He won confidence.
- He bade them “Follow Me.”
Jesus’ method detailed
In The Ministry of Healing, Ellen White writes that Christ’s method alone will bring true success. She summarises that method in five steps.
Mingle with People. Centres of Influence place us where people live. Literature, public evangelism, radio, TV, and Internet will play a vital role in the mission of the church. But while they can support other ministries, they can never replace personal, hands-on, mingling ministry. Workers in Centres of Influence must be prepared to move out of their comfort zones and form relationships with people who are different from them.
Show Sympathy. “You must come close to those for whom you labor, that they may not only hear your voice, but shake your hand, learn your principles, feel your sympathy.”
Minister to People’s Needs. Types of ministry will vary from place to place. They will include services such as counselling, feeding the hungry, caring for kids, teaching life skills, conducting community activities, and teaching language-learning groups. The possibilities are as varied as the needs. Health ministry will almost always connect to people’s needs. Jesus spent time ministering to people’s needs, physically touching their lives.
Win People’s Confidence. Through mingling, showing sympathy, and ministering to needs, we show people that we care. Of course, we hope and pray that the Holy Spirit will touch their hearts and lead them to a full commitment to Him. But our care and love doesn’t depend on them accepting Jesus. When we show people that our care has no strings attached, we build confidence.
Bid Them to Follow Jesus. This is a vital step in Jesus’ method. Leading people to Him is a natural result of wholistic ministry. It arises from the first four steps, where relationships are built. When people start questioning our motivation and why we live the way we do, it is natural to start talking about the Source of our spiritual commitment. Every centre will include intentional plans to start small groups and plant new Seventh-day Adventist congregations.
- Main video: https://youtu.be/1I9Pl6AZu84
- Interview: https://am.adventistmission.org/360-centers
- Article: https://digitalcommons.andrews.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1276&context=jams
- Centres: https://am.adventistmission.org/centers-of-influence
- Success stories: https://urbancenters.org/news-and-stories-672