People and Processes Over Projects and Products

Adapted from When Helping Hurts

The goal of poverty alleviation is to see people restored to being who God created them to be. We want to see people understand that they are created in the image of God with the gifts, abilities, and capacity to make decisions and to effect change in the world around them. We want to see people steward their lives, communities, resources, and relationships in order to bring glory to God. In short, we want to see them become people who enjoy flourishing in their relationships with God, self, others, and creation. These changes tend to happen in highly relational, process-focused ministries more than in impersonal, product-focused ministries.

This point can be illustrated with the story of a ministry focused on a single neighborhood in a major city in the Northeastern U.S. This ministry—in the midst of a community with high rates of drug abuse, single parenting, gang violence, unemployment, and crumbling buildings and infrastructure—has, over the past 40 years, developed a suite of housing, health care, education, arts, and job-placement programs and redeveloped hundreds of decaying homes into an urban oasis for the people in the community. It has received national attention as one of the premier models for church-based community development in North America.

Looking for a Formula

When the ministry began to show amazing results several years into their work, Chalmers’ founder, Dr. Brian Fikkert, visited the ministry, hoping to understand the formula for their success.

Brian said that all his questions focused on how to start and operate all their programs: “How do you manage your ministry? What are the costs of each program? How do you raise the money? Who is on your board? Where can I read the operations manuals? How did you find the housing contractors?”

The founders of the ministry patiently answered his questions, but they kept trying to redirect his thoughts away from money and programs toward something else—learning the agenda of the community and to living on the terms set by their neighbors and a commitment to envisioning God’s shalom for the neighborhood.

The Power of Relationships

For the first few years of their presence in the community, they didn’t “do ministry” but formed foundational relationships through “hanging out,” maintaining a faithful presence in the community, having fun together, and learning to be the body of Christ together. Only once they had worked patiently to gain the trust and support of the community were they able to launch transformational programs to meet the urgent needs of the people they longed to serve.

Imagine going to a donor and asking for funds to transform a city through “hanging out”! Yes, buildings, programs, budgets, and boards would eventually come, but all of those were established upon a process that was intentionally highly relational from its inception. As the ministry founders developed friendships with the long-standing residents, they all began to dream together about what could be done to improve the community.

Once the residents identified housing as a key need, the ministry organized a local chapter of Habitat for Humanity to rehabilitate abandoned homes. Four years after they first moved into the community, they completed their first home restoration. If the goal was to build a house, this was not a very impressive program.

The Long-Term Impact of Relationships

One of the hallmarks of this ministry’s long-term success is that the founders no longer run the programs. Instead, it has continued to thrive under the leadership of community members, low-income people who were empowered by a relational process that focused on reconciling their foundational relationships instead of on implementing projects to produce products.

The Chalmers Center has created programs with a similar goal. The key is reconciling broken relationships and walking alongside people. In our Faith & Finances and Work Life programs, we created a specific role for volunteers who want to support participants who are doing the hard work of making life changes. Allies show up to classes and learn alongside the people they are there to support. You can learn more about how to find and train Allies here.

The Chalmers Center

The Chalmers Center

The Chalmers Center helps God’s people rethink poverty and respond with practical biblical principles so that all are restored to flourishing.


  1. William Kiptiony Kebeney on July 12, 2024 at 2:21 pm

    Would like to commend Chalmers for equipping the church and the body of Christ how to alleviate poverty. Am serving communities to have a meal is not possible. Children goes to school even without breakfast. Kindly am appealing to Chalmers to train us without charging any fee. It’s difficult to get money pay for training. May God touch you to support African church leadership to be equipped to be relevant to their congregation and communities. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to get Participants manual helping without hurting in Africa. A friend bought me Facilitator manual from world challenge.

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