"We're already doing it and you should learn from us"
"Churches have figured it out. They figured out hundreds of years ago… They know how to get people in the door, they know how to build communities, they know how to spread a message." It was a pretty common refrain as we spent the morning over coffee and breakfast talking with leaders of faith communities in DC's Ward 8. It was pretty clear early in our conversation which group knew they had already figured out.
Spoiler alert: it wasn't the healthcare people in the room.
Our team includs designers, hospital administrators, nurses, and frontline caregivers. We come from an industry that's wired think of itself on the top of the economic and civic food chain. But this meeting – even its very design – was about flipping that belife on its head. We came to listen.
We heard people tell us how they get their identity from their faith community. We heard other leaders talk about changing lives, including what we might traditionally call health and well-being happens through messages deeply connected to a shared sense of faith. We also heard how a modern dilemma could also be a powerful tool for change.
These faith leaders spoke about the building blocks of public health -a healthy body, access to food, shelter -simply as basic requirements for something more important: their faith and spiritual journey. Health sits on the bottom of a pyrmid where faith is the penical. They spoke about the opportunities associated with health and their congregations.
"They've got the land you see. In some cases it's the only thing they still have. Churches and places of worship are gathering spots for people in our community. But today's young people, they don't want to go to church on Sunday." We heard stories of older congregations aging; with senior parishioners less able to leave their house and attend services. We also heard stories about places of worship hosting jazz nights or community meetings as a different way to bring a new generation inside their doors.
"You should set up a clinic in the basement of our church!"
Another member of the group, overhearing this, chimed in: "better yet, you should support what we're already doing. We're already doing it, we're teaching health, and our message is better than yours."
This was the second of a series of meetings our team is holding in DC's Ward 8 with its leaders and residents. Our goals are simple even if they don't come naturally to healthcare. First we want to listen, learn, and understand. We want to use what we hear, together with the community, to drive fast simple changes; we believe a bias toward action produces change faster than anything else.