Defining Community Development

Michael P. Shead

Senior Paper

International Community Development

Oral Roberts University

Tulsa, Oklahoma

December 7, 1999


 Part I

Chapter 1: A definite purpose and plan

Defining Community Development

Community development is a process. Development is a long-term process of helping people to help themselves.  It is said, “Give a man a fish and you will have fed him for a day, but teach him how to fish and you will have fed him for a lifetime”.  This is the concept of community development–to empower people to care for and improve themselves.

In his book, Two Ears of Corn, Roland Bunch defined community development as “A process whereby people learn to take charge of their own lives and solve their own problems.” (1982).  It is a development of attitude as well as resources. Bunch noted that poverty is often linked directly to mental attitudes more than actual physical situations (1982).

Community development includes many different areas: agriculture, economics, literacy, hygiene, and others.  No matter what area in which the development is taking place it is important to remember that the purpose is to empower the people within their own society and culture so that changes are coming from within the culture and from the people, not merely because an outside influence is changing them.

In 1973 Dale Kietzman presented a definition of community development to the Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL).  He said, “Community Development is the process of helping to strengthen a community (and its leadership) so that it can resolve, through its own initiative, the problems which face it” (Yost & Yost, 1999).

While community development is mainly dealing with physical changes and development of physical resources, development, from a Christian point of view, also includes pointing the people toward Jesus Christ to fulfill spiritual as well as physical needs.

Community development includes training people and helping them learn to support themselves physically, mentally, economically, and, from a Christian perspective, to grow spiritually.  For the Christian, development is a ministry to empower people with the knowledge of how to care for basic needs while teaching them that God cares for them — mentally, physically, economically as well as spiritually.

Purpose of Community Development

Community development has a definite purpose–to empower the people to improve themselves or to know how to improve themselves physically, mentally, and spiritually.  Note: the purpose of community development is not to westernize a culture.  The purpose is to empower them to change within their culture.  A cultural change is not to be feared but is a natural transition that, in small amounts, is not a terrible thing.

The underlying purpose of the physical, mental, and spiritual development of any group is to train members to lead themselves without complete reliance on outside sources. This development is a process by which the people are not developed, rather, they are empowered and enabled to develop themselves (Bunch, 1982).  This includes indigenous leaders who have been educated or trained to take on leadership in physical projects, local leaders who believe in the projects they have developed, and solid believers in Jesus Christ who take on the positions of pastors and various other leadership positions in the church established on the Bible in their language.

Development also awakens the people to the means by which they can improve themselves. Often this includes means and methods which are at hand but, perhaps, unseen by the locals (Yost, & Yost, 1999).  Development introduces new methods for doing traditional things in a way that will help improve the people while not totally reshaping the culture.  If the people are mentally unable to understand the new concepts or have attitudes set against the situation, even the best plans will be most difficult if not impossible to implement (Katz, 1999).

The most important area of development is the underlying purpose which should be found in each human who calls himself by the name of Christian–to point others toward Christ.  This is not to shove a story down someone’s throat or entice them into saying a prayer.  The developer’s purpose is to bring people to a knowledge and relationship with Christ.  Yost and Yost wrote that a central motivation for development should work toward the “emergence of a growing community of believers who regularly read and study the Scriptures and apply Scriptural principles in their lives.” (1999).  From a Christian developer’s perspective, the purpose of community development is to see the people gain an “understanding of what Christ’s love means.” (Yost & Yost, 1999).  Yost and Yost state that this “understanding” comes through the observation of Christian love in action and the meeting of specific felt needs that the people have (1999).

The Plan

A vital aspect of starting a development program for a group of people is having a plan.  This plan cannot be a mere shadowy idea about what will take place when implementation begins, rather it must be a well-laid outline of how to go about discovering needs, developing solutions, acquiring resources, implementing resources and then gradually turning the leadership over to trained and growing indigenous leaders.  Throughout the entire plan, evaluation of the processes, responses, and results is needed to determine if the plan is working or not.  The evaluation process will eliminate the waste of money, resources, and time on an unsuccessful project.

Since beginning a development program has many similarities with a curriculum in education, consider the educational outline for curriculum development–ADDIE (fig. 1).  According to Bob Hoffman, of San Diego State University’s Department of  Educational Technology, ADDIE is an acronym for: Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation and Evaluation (Hoffman, 1995;  Hoffman, 1999).

This document will expand this model, for the sake of development, to include the necessary element of empowerment in the process of planning a development program (fig. 2).

The first step in a development program is to analyze the needs of the people.  Analysis of needs provides reliable information which can be used to determine what areas need to be addressed in the development program.  Dr. Hallett Hullinger noted that a thorough needs analysis can direct developers not only to the problem but to the source of the problem (Hullinger, 1999).  This allows developers to address the cause of the problems as well as the problem itself.

In a needs analysis there are four means of gathering information.  Each has its strength and some weaknesses, but they are feasible ways to gather information which will be very useful.  The four means for gathering information are: direct observation, interviews with those involved, information from experts in the given field, and research from documentation of that particular area (Hullinger, 1999).  Often needs analysis includes several, if not all, of these means to gain information.  However, research itself must be evaluated to determine the usefulness of the data.  If evaluation is ever left out of a step in the entire process, the developers may end up with faulty information or a program which does not truly help the situation.

Once a sufficient amount of information, which will vary from situation to situation, has been gathered and the people affected and outcomes defined, the next step can begin.  This step involves a number of areas: Determining the needs of the people, Determining what solutions will be included in the program,  Defining how the new information will be taught or presented to the people, and choosing which resources or media will be used (Hoffman, 1995).  This step draws the needs together and determines what will be addressed and how. This is the design phase of planning.

Following the design, resources must be acquired to carry out the plan.  Resources for development may include curriculum for teaching the people, teachers, seed, money, storage, transportation, translators, etc.  While acquiring resources, the conscientious developer must remember to use resources which are renewable within that society as much as possible. Foreign equipment will be unfamiliar to the people and not as easily fixed when damaged or broken. Bunch wrote that each development project should find a sense of ownership in the minds of those who are being developed.  They should be doing the development themselves with the encouragement of a development worker (1982).  Key to a development program is the use of things which will draw the people into the development and  not turn them away–not handouts but resources they can use and improve themselves.  Eventually, they should be able to do it on their own.  As Merri Lee Hipp noted, development is enabling people, not things.  “Emphasis on process, not materials.” (Hipp, 1999).

When the resources are gathered and the group which will receive the development is open to the process, implementation of the program may begin.  As implementation begins, developers must remember to take it slowly.  Although they may be very excited about the “wonderful plans” they have for these people, an over vivacious developer may intimidate the people and prove very harmful to the entire process.

External assistance can be helpful but only if it respects the local culture and process and is willing to sublimate itself and allow an indigenous process to come forth which will enable the whole community to function more effectively both internally and in a larger cultural context (Yost & Yost, 1999).

When this “indigenous process” is forgotten, the whole idea of development being of the people has been misplaced as well.  Much damage can be caused by overzealous workers who give too much advice and do not let the people grow and develop at their own rate so that the development which comes is truly theirs and not as foreign as the outsider who encouraged this new idea. (Yost & Yost, 1999).

It is in this next step that this document differs from the ADDIE model. A vital aspect of development is that it is turned over to the people themselves.  In his book, Bunch wrote, “If development programs fall apart after the helping agency leaves the village, true development most likely was not taking place.” (1982).

All throughout the development process the developers should be aiming toward an empowered people who can lead, carry on, and expand the program they began.  Unless the developers keep this attitude in mind they are in danger of turning the development process into a circle of reliance on outside sources by the people.  When this occurs the very people they were trying to help are in danger of ending up worse off than they were to begin with (Bunch, 1982).

Central to the entire plan for development is the center of the ADDIE diagram (fig. 1) — evaluation.  The checks and balances of continual evaluation will avoid many mistakes.

Figure 2

Design model  for planning community development.

Note: Based on concepts from ADDIE by Bob Hoffman, 1995, [Online]. Copyright 1995 by Bob Hoffman. Consider a revised ADDIE model for community development (fig. 2), in this design model for community development the end result is empowerment of the people.  Following empowerment, it will be the growing leaders who must evaluate themselves while the outside developers only offer assistance upon request.  If developers will keep this model and its concept in mind, they will be on the right road for developing a plan with and for the people in physical, mental, and spiritual areas.




CHAPTER 2: Defense and Balance

Pros and Cons: Three Camps for Community Development


Community development is a vast field that should be considered carefully.  Christians, especially, should be aware of various opinions that have arisen about the validity of development as a means for spreading the Gospel.  There are three camps to consider when exploring the prospect of a community development program.

Camp I

First, the non-development camp can be described with an analogy.  Consider someone who gives a massage to a dying horse, if you will. The massage helps nothing and only gets in the way of  the veterinarians who are attempting to save the horse from death.  This group considers development to be nice but a problem for the “real” workers.  The main argument this camp holds against development is that it does not produce the fruit of lives changed through a relationship with Jesus Christ.  While the development may be kind and helpful to the people, it is not producing a change in heart.

For those in this camp, social programs other than medical work and some education programs have been considered “liberal” activities and not a method for spreading the Gospel. This view was held by many especially into the 1950s ( Horace Fenton, 1973).  The entire concept of a missionary did not include anything other than preaching, teaching, and some medical work.  Beyond that, nothing was “spiritual” unless it brought what Fenton called a “harvest of souls for Christ (1973, p. 35).  Still some maintain this view, in 1989 native Indian missionary, K.P. Yohannan wrote,

     It is a crime against lost humanity to go in the name of Christ and missions just to do the social work and yet neglect calling men to repent–to give up their idols and rebellion–following Christ with all their heart. (p. 114).

As Yohannan said, this camp decries the entire idea of helping sinners feel better about themselves without affecting a change in their hearts.  Social work does not save the worker nor the receiver of that work; it merely makes two people feel better about themselves and produces healthy, wealthy, and happy heathens on their way to hell.

Another problem with a false mixture of  religion and development is false faith. Pickett and Hawthorne make note of the problem of “rice Christians”–people who are manipulated into Christianity merely to assure themselves of a means of survival and a food supply (1992, D-216).  Situations like this provide fodder for the flames of those who oppose even those developers who have a correct balance of physical and spiritual development.

It should not be assumed that this camp is totally against any form of social help programs.  The point was well-stated by Fenton when he upheld the staunch support of teaching and preaching.  He said the danger of social missionary work “was that this sort of missionary activity ministered so much to the body of man that the needs of his soul were inevitably overlooked.” (1973, p. 35).  The danger is that developers will concentrate on the physical needs of man so much that the spiritual needs are passed over.  Edward Dayton, founder of World Vision International’s Missions and Advanced Research and Communications Center (MARC) noted that for a Christian development program to be successful, change both physical and spiritual must take place.  As changes are noted in the material standards of a group, changes in their spiritual standards should also be noted (1979, D-211).

Despite the sometimes limiting aspect of this first camp, it has its merits.  Including the continual focus on God’s purpose and not merely physical betterment.  Yohannan wrote that when the heart and spirit are changed by God the physical needs and problems change also (1989, p.117).

Camp II

The second camp is the philanthropy camp.  Although most Christians will be found in the first or third camp, philanthropy should be considered at least for the knowledge of various attitudes concerning development.

Philanthropy is defined as “a desire to help mankind, esp. as shown by gifts to charitable or humanitarian institutions; benevolence” (Webster’s, 1994).  Philanthropy is different from the Christian’s idea of development because it is an effort to better mankind not necessarily to bring about a knowledge of God but for the simple kindness toward fellow men.

Throughout history there have been a vast number of wealthy individuals who have found great joy in supporting philanthropic endeavors.  Some have included religious values within their plans and others have just supported programs they felt would better society.  An example of a famous philanthropist is Andrew Carnegie.  He gave over 300 million dollars toward educational buildings, church organizations, and various other causes throughout the world.  Another was the British general,  James Oglethorpe, who founded the Georgia colony as a haven for debtors and religious refugees in colonial America (Compton’s, 1995).  Philanthropy and development of this sort is pleasing in theory but even these good-willed  efforts do not help situations that are due to attitudes, environment, and conflicting interests.

On October 9, 1989 the Berlin Wall which separated East and West Berlin was removed.  The hopes of the East Berliners were high as they rejoiced over the chance for freedom.  Yet, after 10 years  of “freedom” the Dallas Morning News reports that people are not very excited about the western development of their city.  So much so that they are declaring the blessings of the oppressive communistic government they lived under for 28 years (Katz, 1999).  Because of the drastic changes the East Berliners have faced, they are having difficulty adapting.

Ulrika Stein, a East Berlin teacher, said, “The older generation has been taught that everything they did was wrong and that they have no value….”  She went on to say that a great opportunity for positive development was missed because of the attitude of the West that portrayed all in the communistic society as incorrect. (Katz, 1999).

As westerners moved to the east they spent billions of dollars to re-create East Berlin in their own image.  However, after businesses did not succeed as well as expected and factories were closed, the unemployment rates jumped to twice as high in East Berlin as in West.   At the same time as unemployment increased, rent for a “basic apartment in the East went from $25 a month to $300 and higher per month.”  (Katz, 1999).  Due to over zealous developers and to many changes too quickly this city remains separated by economic barriers and attitudes which can be as demeaning and confining as the wall which fell ten years ago.

Many great organizations, resources, and even towns have been founded or developed because of  philanthropists.  The value of their positive contributions cannot be challenged from a social standpoint.  However, from a spiritual standpoint questions must be addressed concerning the validity of such good works and their spiritual and eternal value.  If someone clings to the extreme of preaching alone and never lends a helping hand or the opposing extreme of helping everyone but never telling about the spiritual life which comes from a relationship with Jesus Christ, then much of God’s intention for people to live a fulfilling, happy life and knowing Him is being cast to the wayside.

Yohannan described a similar situation in his book  The Coming Revolution in World Missions.  He described the vast improvements that have been made in Thailand through the efforts of missionaries for the past 150 years.  Yet, even with the many social improvements, Yohannan said the church only equals one-tenth of one percent of the entire population of the nation (1989,  p. 116).

“…Today virtually all that remains of this is a shell of good works,” Yohannan said of the work in Thailand.  “They died more educated, better governed, and healthier–but they still died without Christ and are bound for hell.” (1989, p. 116).  With this very thing in mind, the prospective developer must consider the third camp in community development.

Camp III

In the third camp are Christian developers who combine the zeal and passion for Christ of the first camp with the desire to help the physical and, perhaps, mental needs of people found in the philanthropist.  These Christian developers have a strong sense of purpose in Christ and a desire to help there fellow man spiritually and physically.

These Christian developers are aware of the results of development alone.  Happy, healthy, hell-bound sinners are a result that these Christian developers seek to avoid.  The Christian developer must never forget their purpose–first, to share the love of Jesus Christ to others and second, to assist people toward a stable satisfying life.  If Christian developers forget their purpose within the perspective of Christ’s love for mankind, they have forgotten His love for themselves as well.  For that person, Christianity has become merely a religion in name; the relationship with Christ has been forgotten.  No longer do they carry the name of Christian, but they have become the proverbial “do-gooder” who is merely passing out crutches to help the lame on their way to hell.   If one truly loves God and loves people how can they not tell others about the love of Christ?

In strong words Dayton called evangelism the “core of true development” (1979, p.  D-211).  He called for Christians to take seriously the concept that Christ changes lives from the inside out and, in that change, development of spirit, mind, and body are found walking hand in hand toward an improved spirit and life via evangelism and development together (1979, p. D-212).

While no Christian developer wants to create a group of “rice Christians”, sometimes those very people who were looking for a handout end up finding a relationship with Jesus Christ that would have been nearly impossible without the example of Christian love provided by the very handouts that had placed them under the label of a “rice Christian”.  Although these “rice Christians”  may look for short-term fulfillment, it is this momentary relief that helps to break the cycle of poverty or problems and can, over time, lead even unwilling hearts to a knowledge and relationship with the love of Christ (Pickett and Hawthorne, 1992, p. D-216).

Biblical Background

Christians should always keep the Bible as the foundation for the things they do.  It is the Word of God–the basis for Christian living.  In light of that, consider how community development has a basis in the Bible.

The Bible does not support any sort of ministry which does not act out the love of Christ in both word and deed.  Look at the very ministry of Jesus Himself and you will find He was continually ministering to the physical needs of the people while He taught them about God’s love.

For those who do not live out this love for Jesus Christ by showing love toward others there is a message of judgement in Matthew 25:31-46.  Here Jesus describes the separation and judgment of the sheep and goats.  While both of these groups recognized the judge as “Lord”, honor was given to the ones who fed the hungry, watered the thirsty, housed the stranger, clothed the naked,  and visited the sick and imprisoned.  Those who did not help others were punished.  Clearly, Christians are required, if not compelled by the love of Jesus Christ, to help others both spiritually and physically.

In the book of Isaiah, God spoke about what He is asking people to do.  He calls for a fast of loosing “bonds”, breaking “every yoke”, and a whole list physical actions including: feeding, clothing, and giving housing to the homeless (Isaiah 58:6-7.  While these are definitely social programs for the physical needs of people, God did not finish there.  He goes on to say that after you do these things, “Then your light shall break forth like the morning…” (Isaiah 58:8). This passage seems to almost directly state that when you help those in need and seek to honor God that He will glorify Himself in that situation.

A key aspect of development projects in the Christian context is this: do all you do in the name of Jesus Christ; do not hold back from sharing with the people you are helping unless you specifically know God wants you to keep silent.

Throughout the Bible there are examples of how God sent people to do development work.  An example of agricultural development is found in Genesis 41.  Joseph was placed in the position to train an entire nation to store its abundant crops and then distribute the food wisely during a famine which would probably have destroyed much of the Egyptian nation as well as Joseph’s own family.  God gave Joseph wisdom in how to plan out and teach the Egyptians to use their grain wisely.  Joseph was using the wisdom God gave him to sustain the people in a time of physical need.  Developers should also use the wisdom and ideas God gives them to improve the lives of others.

Another example involves physical improvements made to the city and mental improvements in the people of Jerusalem by Nehemiah.  The walls that he helped build not only led to physical protection for the people but mentally drew the people of Judah together.  In Nehemiah 4:6 it is written that the people “had a mind to work” they were focused on accomplishing a task together.  This brought a sense of identity, pride, and unity for a group of people who had been living in fear and reproach from area people groups.  Through this project the traditions of the people were brought back and God was honored in Jerusalem (Nehemiah.1:3).  These are examples of how community development helps the people improve their way of life while retaining quality traditions.

Jesus Christ himself is an excellent example of one who provided for the physical as well as spiritual needs of the people he was among.  In John 6:1-13, Jesus had just finished preaching.  when he performed a miracle and fed more than five thousand hungry people.  Throughout his ministry, he cared for the people’s health, and even economics.  He healed many and once told Peter where to get the money to pay taxes (Matthew 17:27).  Jesus provided for the spiritual as well as physical needs of the people.

Now, some may say that God wants missionaries to focus only on the spiritual needs of people.  Some may even say that if the people really want to, they will work or better themselves on their own.  Yes, one should be looking for ways to reach the spiritual needs of the people and not merely do everything for them. Yet, consider what an honor it is to be used by God to help others know His love.  Can you tell someone that God is love and then tell them you are one who follows Christ without showing the love of God through your actions?

In John 10:10, Jesus himself told the people that his purpose was to give them abundant life.  According to Third John 1:2, John prayed that the people would prosper “in all things…just as your soul prospers.”  Spiritual well-being is one aspect of what God wants us to have.  While here on earth, he wants us to do well in physical, mental, and economical areas also.

Community development is not merely a social program; it is carrying out the Gospel of Christ’s love for people and their whole being.  Through development programs, people are exposed to the love and concern Christ has for them in all areas of living and the Gospel–Christ’s sacrifice, forgiveness, and God’s love–is spread to the nations.

Historical Background

Historical community development programs are difficult to define since development as organized efforts seem to be mostly a product of the twentieth century.  Historical development programs, such as they were, were often designed to support or strengthen the purpose of the mission or preachers who are overseeing the people.  Seldom are there records of these programs being an empowerment for the people.

Although he did not receive much praise for his ideas at the time, Bartholomew Ziegenbalg, a German Lutheran under the King of Denmark, went to the southeast coast of India in 1705. There he led the people in worship, preaching, and the catechism.  Ziegenbalg also stressed education and translation of literature into the vernacular of the people (Beaver, 1970, B-64).   Here is an early example of a type of development and empowerment of the people in the area of literacy.

According to Beaver, the Moravian missionaries of the eighteenth century were purposely self-supporting.  When they went to the “most despised and neglected people”, they developed industries and businesses “which not only supported the work but brought the missionaries into intimate contact with the people” (1970, B-64 – B-65).  These missionaries not only brought a new belief to the people but an entire new way of living.

In an effort to win young Brahmins to Jesus Christ, Alexander Duff, a Scottish missionary also in India, emphasized higher education in the English language.  Although Beaver writes that Duff was largely successful in his endeavors, this led to an overemphasis of the English language that was not as successful for other groups.  At the same time these language schools “soon consumed a large part of the resources of all the missions” (1970, B-66).  Here is an example of some groups that did not reevaluate what they had predetermined to be a good thing despite meeting little success in subsequent attempts.

Not until the mid-twentieth century did missions realize the doors which are opened by health services “in the name and spirit of the Great Physician” that preach the Gospel themselves (Beaver, 1970, B-69).  Throughout these years the faithful missionaries continued to keep the emphasis of what they did on sharing the love of Jesus Christ.  Yet, there must be a balance between developing a society by bringing Christ into their culture and replacing their culture with another and tacking Christ to this new society or culture.  This is a danger in and of itself.  If people see Christ as part of another society unrelatable to them, the day they reject the intruding culture and society is the day they will reject Christ as well.

In more recent times, especially following World War II, Christian organizations like World Compassion, Summer Institute of Linguistics, and Compassion International, have arisen to provide for the physical and spiritual needs of the people.

In 1991 Terry Law, an evangelist,  was in Russia distributing Bibles when he met up with an elder Russian woman, who had been standing in a bread line.  She said, “We can’t eat your Bibles.”  The people were in starvation conditions yet, until that time, Law had been only looking at their spiritual need for Christ and not considering their physical needs.  As Law began fulfilling the physical needs of the people, more accepted to the Story of Jesus booklets he distributed.  Now, Terry Law Ministries World Compassion has found many open doors even into the “closed” nation of China through physical aid programs which have eventually opened a means for the Gospel to be distributed.  Terry Law Ministries now has a goal to “distribute humanitarian aid in such a way that the message of the Gospel is continually advanced.” (J. Vesanen, personal communication, September, 1999).

When devastating floods killed many people and animals in East Africa in 1997, the value of community development again came to light.  Missions: Moving Mountains (M:MM), a development group had been working among villages in the affected region since 1980.  When cholera broke out among the people of that district, the eight villages where M:MM had been had “little or no cholera.”  In those villages “People’s habits in dealing with drinking water, cooking and eating utensils, and human waste were healthier” than other villages.  M:MM had been training the people in spiritual and physical discipleship.  M:MM has emphasized a faith and hope in Jesus to get away from a fatalistic view of life and, through spiritual transformation make a difference in their physical outlook as well.  M:MM combines discipleship of spirit with training and development of the physical ( Hipp, 1999).

     By slowly but deliberately discipling others to grow in both spiritual and physical areas, our desire is that their lives will be changed and, in turn, they will reach out to others.  We want to help put in place a firm foundation, then leave the remainder of the building with nationals    (Hipp, 1999).

This enabling of the natives to physically improve themselves and train others to do the same along with the spiritual knowledge of Jesus Christ is the essence of true Christian community development.

A Balancing Act

When dealing with a community there must be a balance between developing felt needs and spiritual needs.  Westerners often look at needs in segments while in third world countries needs are all considered together.  Bunch wrote, “The western approach to development often causes problems, since we’ll often work on one area and not consider the others.” (1982).  Rather than divide the areas into segments (e.g. economic issues, social issues, and religious issues), Bunch encourages developers to see them as interrelated areas.  This is a holistic rather than a segmented approach (1982).

This balance between felt and spiritual needs is tempered by a constant remembering of what the purpose of Christian community development is.  “It is people living in the full realization of their God-given potential in all areas of their lives.” ( Yost & Yost, 1999).  To achieve this a developer must keep their goals in mind as they train the people, disciple them in a knowledge of Christ, and empower them to carry on their own development both spiritual and physical.  As this process is completed the outside developer should be able to move on to others and the development be continued by native leaders.



Click here to go to Part II: The Community Development Project

Leadership training among the Navajo men  between ages 12 and 17 in the Shiprock Agency of the Navajo Nation Reservation.