Anatomy of Change: How One Ministry Changed Their Paradigm

At a recent Global Leadership Network event in Atlanta, I had the prviliege of eating lunch with the Director of a ministry in Decatur, AL who has led her organization through the process of detoxifying charity and is doing some exciting work.

I asked Mrs. Bolding to share with Charity Detox how Neighborhood Christian Center was able to change their paradigm. As you read the story she shares, it is an interesting look into the anatomy of change.

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My name is Pamela Bolding.  My husband, Tim, and I are Co-Directors at the Neighborhood Christian Center of Alabama, Inc. We have been part of the Center since its inception in 1994.  We became the directors in 2006 and have watched the Center grow from several programs to 45-50 programs and classes weekly.   

What We Once Were

The Neighborhood Christian Center of Alabama was started with a vision of “Changing a Generation One Life at a Time.”  The original mission statement focused on meeting the physical necessities and spiritual needs of those caught in the cycle of poverty.  Through our Compassion Ministry, the Center offered our neighbors food, clothes, financial assistance, Thanksgiving meals, a Christmas Toy Store, and other programs to meet immediate needs.  During our Neighbor Days, we would visit with them for a short time and pray with each neighbor before shopping through our Compassion rooms. Our policy included that a family/individual could not return for assistance for 3 months.

Our Disruptive Realization

Eventually we saw that the problem with just meeting immediate physical needs was that we kept seeing the same people over and over again and seeing no lifestyle change. Plus, we were having so many people show up for assistance that we felt like we did not have time to really visit with people coming to our Center for help. Opportunities were being missed to build relationships and learn more about their true needs. We knew the way we met needs in our community had to change but weren’t sure what to do and how to accomplish it.   

Below I share how our organization was able to change our paradigm. As you read you will see some part of the anatomy of change highlighted to help you think through how you might chart your own course.

The Anatomy of Change

Involve God and Your Neighbors

After realizing we needed to change, we spent plenty of time in prayer, and we spent plenty of time visiting with our neighbors. Though this we continue to realize that there were so many other needs not being met like finding employment, dealing with harmful relationships, lacking financial training and more “heart” struggles.

Learn from Other Practitioners

So, faced with theses challenged, I attended a Mercy Ministry Conference and had the opportunity to attend the Jobs for Life workshop with David Spickard, CEO of Jobs for Life and Steve Corbett, co-author of When Helping Hurts. Reading When Helping Hurts and attending this conference made it clear that the Center had to make a drastic change in our Compassion Ministry. 

Experiment with New Models

Our first step was to begin teaching the Jobs for Life course at a local faith-based residential drug rehab. After some time experimenting with this, the Alabama Department of Corrections heard about the Jobs for Life course and asked us to teach the class in a re-entry program at the largest male prison in Alabama! We were excited for the change that was happening and the domino effect that began. God opened doors to teach faith-based classes in jails, prisons, judicial system, drug court, at risk youth programs and Back Yard Bible Clubs in the neighborhoods we serve. We began to see the impact on people moving from dependency on the system and others to more independent living with new learned skills from the educational and discipleship programs we started.  

Ask the Right Questions & Ask Them Regularly 

The face of our ministry was changing daily, and our underlying question with each new opportunity was, “How can we best serve our community in a God honoring way?” This was about focusing on empowering people rather than meeting their needs.  

As the ministry grew, the Lord showed us two particular areas of ministry – education and discipleship – that met a unique need in the community and were necessary in our neighbors’ path to hope.  Our vision moved toward education and discipleship being the primary focus of the “new” Neighborhood Christian Center. With this new vision, we concentrated on sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ through new classes and programs and offering hope and healing to those we serve by holding our neighbors more accountable for their lifestyle decisions. By shifting our focus, the food pantry, clothes closet and other ministries that met immediate physical needs became supporting ministries.  

Align the Organization Around the Vision with new Partners, Policies and Practices 

Our Board of Directors began to meet and pray over policy changes. We revisited When Helping Hurts, Toxic Charity, spent time with others who have made these changes, sought wise counsel from Steve Corbett, co-author of When Helping Hurts and Randy Nabors, Urban & Mercy Ministries Coordinator with The New City Network.  

After much prayer and hashing through all the different angles that change could bring, good and bad, we decided to start making immediate changes. Here are some things we did.

  1. We set a date that the change would take place.
  2. We decided to slow the whole process down; only seeing 12-15 individuals daily, instead of 25-30 individuals.
  3. We created a new interview application.  This application is lengthy because it deals with general information, finances, employment, relationships, religious background (if any), and education.
  4. These changes also included changing our policy for each visit for assistance. (If you are interested in seeing how we have fleshed this out, below I share our procedures for visits as well as the cover letter for our new interview application.)

Celebrate Success and Stay the Course

We have been amazed at how well the new policy has been accepted by our neighbors we serve.  When we shared with one young lady our policy changes, she became so excited and wanted to start attending classes immediately.  She was faithful to several classes, improved her situation, and began volunteering with us.  Now she is part of the Center’s family. Not all neighbors respond this way. On the flip side, we have had those who become upset and even angry and tell us if they have to fill out paperwork to receive food and clothes, they wouldn’t return.  It is hard to hear this response because we want to help our neighbors in every part of their life. But the positive outcome from a partnership is we can focus more on those who desire a change. Our community has other food pantries and clothes closets that they can visit, but we have become very intentional about partnering with people to see the brokenness in their life redeemed and ultimately their relationship with Christ; then their relationships, work, finances, and other parts of their life. 

We were concerned about how our community, donors, churches and volunteers would view these changes.  Again, we have been amazed at how well people have reacted to the changes we have made.  Actually, they have been excited that people are being held accountable to make wise choices, while having a partnership with them to make these changes.  Changes we pray that will have an impact not only on their self, but every aspect of their life.

Policies for Visits

First Visit 
1. Every neighbor must sign in.
2. A volunteer will call a neighbor’s name they are to assist and share our new policy with them. They would also explain why the Center felt these changes would benefit them in the long run.  The major change was if they returned after a 3 month period, they must bring back the completed application packet along with the supporting documents.
 3. Each neighbor signs a paper that states that we have shared with them our new policy and that they received the application packet and instructions.  This provides us with written proof they received a packet and our new policy was explained to them so they couldn’t deny they knew about the changes.
4. Then they will pray and shop for food, clothes, hygiene kits and small household items. 
5. Additionally, the volunteer gives them a list of the many classes the Center offers and encourages them to attend. 
6. A staff person creates a folder and puts the signed policy change paper, a form that shows each item they received, and a copy of a picture ID and social security card of all family members that need assistance.
7. A staff person writes on an index card necessary information on the neighbor: name, social security number, race, family size, date of birth, their NCC number, date, and items received.
8. There are three ways we record a neighbor’s information: a spreadsheet of categories that includes a tally of every item given out, an Access document of every neighbor and the dates and items received, and a website called Charity Tracker, a networking system for local communities.  All the churches, non-profits and ministries that are part of the network system can enter the individual’s general information, how they were served, and more.  It provides more accountability, the opportunity to offer counsel, and to weed out those who are scamming the system, those who need more in-depth counseling and guidance, and an overall view of their current situation based on how often they need assistance.
Second Visit
1. Neighbor must have their completed application packet and supporting documents or they will not be seen that day. 
2. A volunteer or staff person sits down with them and reviews in detail the application and their documents.
3. After reviewing the application and having time to visit, we share with them that in ordered to be served in the future, they will need to attend classes or individual counseling in the area they need help with and begin making efforts to improve their situation.  We offer assistance, classes and mentoring in order to partner with those we serve; but they must make the decision to partner with us.
4. If everything is complete, the volunteer will shop with them in our Compassion rooms.
Third Visit 
1. If they have not met the requirements that we gave them in the second visit, they will not be seen. 
2. If they have partnered with us, the volunteer will shop with them in our Compassion rooms. 

Interview Application Cover Letter

Dear Neighbors,

We as the Neighborhood Christian Center have been serving the local community for the past 20 years. We have served neighbors like you through food, clothing, hygiene items, household items, financial assistance, Thanksgiving, Christmas, youth programs, and educational services. After many years of serving, the Lord has brought many neighbors in need through our doors; what a blessing it has been to serve you. However, we have also seen through the years that our neighbors in need are staying in need. We have asked the Lord for guidance and the question that comes to mind is “What would Christ do to serve our neighbors?” Christ is our Righteousness, our Healer, our Hope, and our Comforter. Christ walks with us and makes all things new. We as the Neighborhood Christian Center want to walk with you in your time of need and offer the Hope and Healing that Jesus Christ gives through educating and discipling you. We would like the chance to offer you classes and opportunities to rectify your needs while serving you with food, clothing and other physical assistants. 

Please understand that in offering educational classes and discipleship we have made changes to our food pantry, clothes closet and other areas of assistance. Take home your information packet that has the client interview form and list of required documentation. Fill out the client interview form and bring your documentation back to the Neighborhood Christian Center to meet with someone to assess your needs. 

Your neighbors in Christ,
The Neighborhood Christian Center


The NCC is a good test case of how an organization learned to be honest with themselves, ask the right questions, learn from the right partners, and do the hard work of making concrete changes throughout the organization. We commend the for their wisdom, courage, and diligence. Keep up the good work!

Posted on June 11, 2015 .