About Adventist Community Services
Adventist Community Services
God has called every Seventh-day Adventist Church be a transforming agent in its community, following the methods of Jesus to bring help and hope through ministries of compassion in His name (see Luke 4:16-21; Ministry of Healing, p. 143). Adventist Community Services (ACS) is the descriptive label for a wide range of public services provided by the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the North New South Wales (NNSW) Conference. It is also the name of the denomination’s community action agency that operates at the church level.
Even though problems such as poverty, disease, disaster, and other social problems are multiplying around the world, there is a positive side to this challenge. These ever-present problems present unlimited opportunities for God’s people to experience the joy of service in providing compassionate care that alleviates and prevents suffering. This opens doors to reach people with the hope of Jesus Christ in the midst of their struggles.
The Seventh-day Adventist Church in the NNSW Conference, at the highest level has renewed its commitment to community services and redoubled its efforts to support and encourage this important ministry. The 2001 World Survey of church members revealed, among other things, that only 29% of our members are involved in their community. Findings from the World Survey are reflected in the Adventist church’s “Tell the World Initiative,” which has seven areas of emphasis: spiritual growth, community involvement, personal witness, city outreach, church planting, evangelistic programming, and media ministry. Goals have been set for each area of emphasis. Further to this, the NNSW Conference has voted through their Strategic Plan (2015-2019) focussing on three major areas namely: 1. Proclaiming the Gospel (Preaching), 2. Making Disciples (training and equipping of members) and 3. Serving Humanity (ACS responses to community needs).
One of the goals is to raise our community involvement to 75% of our Churches by the year 2019. We invite you to join us in meeting that goal — and, in the years that follow, to continually increase the ranks of God’s mighty community services army.
This Adventist Community Services leaflet is a tool for creating an organised response to the needs in your community. It is intended for an Conference wide audience. The church in North New South Wales has its own handbook — Serving Humanity, which can be sourced from the conference office.
We affirm those individuals and churches, large or small, who are already involved in the community. It is our prayer that this tool will help you think through how your church can be more involved in the community; bringing hope and healing to people in the name of Jesus.
The Mission of Adventist Community Services
The mission or purpose of Adventist Community Services (ACS) can be stated very simply: To serve communities in Christ’s name. For those in leadership positions, there is a need to unpack this statement in a more detailed description of what ACS is all about.
Why the Name Adventist Community Services?
Until the World War II era, the humanitarian work of local Seventh-day Adventist churches was known as the Dorcas Society (from Dorcas in the New Testament). This ministry of unselfish service started in 1879. Groups of women formed a society and met frequently to provide clothes and food or money for families in the church or the immediate community with temporary needs. Some churches wanted to involve men and started the idea of the coed Good Samaritan Society.* By 1953, the General Conference broadened the concept of service to address many other kinds of needs in a manner more appropriate in an increasingly urbanised society. This new organisation was named Health and Welfare Services by Seventh-day Adventists, and by 1970 it had a shorter name — Adventist Community Services. The essential change is to give local units many ways of organising to meet any kind of community need. In 200, the name Adventist Community Services was decommissioned in the Australian Union, but in 2017 the NNSW Conference had reestablished an ACS department to lead their churches to reengage with their communities at the point of need.
*In some parts of the world, men involved in church-based community services organise themselves under the names Adventist Men or Nehemiah Skill Association.
Values and Guiding Principles of ACS
The values which have shaped ACS are traditional Christian values: the potential of each individual to reflect the image of God; the dignity which is inherent in every person; and the importance of quality in human life. ACS approaches the person as an integrated entity comprised of physical, mental, social, and spiritual facets. ACS works on behalf of people of all social economic levels. It regards the poor with respect, as partners with whom it works in a learning and sharing relationship. People of higher classes also have needs which ACS should address.
Community development is viewed as an integrated process which addresses the basic sources of poverty and social disintegration, seeking to build self-reliance in the individual and equitable social relationships. Strengthening the family is a fundamental focus of community development.
ACS strives for excellence in all that it undertakes. It accepts accountability for the use of its resources, and the implications of its actions. It respects the legal standards that apply in the countries and communities in which it functions, and upholds standards of integrity in its activities. ACS recognises its responsibility to its constituency. It upholds the values of a modest lifestyle among its employees and volunteers. ACS fosters dynamic relationships with church and community leadership.
As a needs-oriented organisation, ACS concentrates its efforts in a variety of areas that include community-based social services such as food pantries, soup kitchens, clothing distribution, OpShops, drug and alcohol abuse and prevention assistance, disaster response, crisis counselling, tutoring and mentoring, career training, job placement, refugee resettlement, immigration assistance, health screening and education (Depression Recovery, CHEP and CHIP programs), family life and health education, elder care, primary health care for the medically indigent, and ministry to the homeless, the disabled and people with AIDS. It is also interested in social problems such as addictions, unemployment and literacy. Community-based program development includes a wide range of activities leading to improved health, economic and social well-being, and increased self-reliance. Through formal and informal education and training, ACS focuses on developing competence and skills in areas appropriate to community needs
Community needs can also be met by the creation of small-scale institutions which deliver essential services in areas where they are inadequate or nonexistent.
Churches with a strong disaster response capability and a track record of effective response can often develop community services centres or other permanent programs in the aftermath of major disasters including fires, floods, hurricanes or tornados, as well as the results of a major civil disorder, epidemic or environmental pollution. Small, medium or large churches might partner with other churches or with existing organisations in a community to help meet expressed needs more effectively.
The bottom-line principle that guides ACS is that its mission parallels the ministry of Jesus, who came for the very purpose of undoing the devil’s work (see 1 John 3:18).
Four Levels of Community Services
Work can be done to meet needs in any community at four different levels. Groups often assume that the level where they work is the only thing to be done. There are, in fact, at least four different levels at which something valid can be done about any social concern.
Level 1. Church volunteers, in the Seventh-day Adventist Church and in most other faiths, usually work at the level of “relief,” providing immediate supplies and services to meet the most basic lack of drinking water, food, shelter, blankets, clothing, etc., by individuals and families. Most government welfare programs work at the same level, providing a check or a voucher to enable families to purchase basic necessities. Relief work is often needed. In some emergencies it is a life-or-death necessity. Disaster response teams, refugee camps in areas of upheaval, and homeless shelters in large cities are all necessary to the survival of suffering people.
In Churches that Make a Difference, Sider, Olson, and Unruh state that this level of community service is like giving fish to someone. But it is better to teach a man or woman to feed their family than it is to continue to provide emergency meals or food parcels forever. Once an impoverished person has been empowered to meet his or her own needs, he is in a position to thrive and grow. She can regain her dignity and invest her talents in productive activity.
Level 2. We can also work at a second level, “economic development.” For example, families in developing areas can be provided with seeds and tools along with information about improved farming techniques. Another example may be a “Op Shops,” where used clothing and household goods create jobs as well as provide a method of distribution that protects the dignity of the poor. This is primarily done by ADRA in our conference.
Sider, Olson, and Unruh break down this level into two parts: (1) Individual Development, which includes transformational ministries that empower a person to improve physical, emotional, intellectual, relational, or social status. This is like teaching people how to fish. But personal transformation has limited impact if there are no jobs, or if a family is spending most of its limited income on rent because there is not affordable housing. Therefore (2) Community Development is needed, which renews the building blocks of a healthy community, such as housing, jobs, health care, budgeting and education. This is like providing fishing tools.
Level 3. Some Adventists also work for “systemic (structural) change” (also known as advocacy), seeking to change the institutional policies and laws that encourage unjust or unhealthy conditions An example is efforts to impact laws that make housing affordable or work or living conditions more humane, or to help disadvantaged people gain access to resources and opportunities that will make their life better. Sider, Olson, and Unruh would say this is like making sure everyone in the community has equal access to the fishing pond.
Level 4. This level can be called “community action.” At the community action level all of the other levels (relief, economic development, and systemic change) are brought together in a well planned strategy, implemented by a coalition of organisations, to make a neighbourhood a better place in which to live. Bandages are important when a person is bleeding, but it takes more than a “band-aid approach” to make a real difference. We encourage each ACS organisation to decide locally at which level it can currently work, ever striving to increase its capacity to work at more challenging levels.
ACS must learn to pick and choose where it can develop significant work. When it does not do so, several problems result. They include: Having a presence, but not programs or services; becoming a “jack of all trades and a master of none;” having insufficient resources to be a reliable “neighbor” in the community; having difficulty recruiting volunteers; having priorities that are established on the preferences of those who are providing the funding rather than community need.
The viability of ACS as an agency capable of maintaining effective, credible ministries of compassion will ultimately depend on the degree to which it can find a practical balance between: Community and local church expectations and needs; availability of competent people to manage the operations; quantity of resources available; the degree of donor interest and support; and the level of programming excellence necessary for local needs to be best served in the long term.
Therefore, consideration needs to be given to the following when plans are made and priorities decided: community needs; potential for real change in the life or condition of people; expertise available; management capability; existing organisations and structures; the needs of the church; potential for sustaining programs; and degree of opportunity to be a player in meeting community needs in a usually crowded field of local charitable activities.
 Ronald J. Sider, Philip N. Olson, & Heidi Rolland Unruh, Churches That Make a Difference, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 2002, pp. 86-87.