Skip to content Skip to cookie consent
Tearfund home

Why we love the church (and how it's the answer to poverty)

What our research showed about the church as a cost-effective and transformational answer to poverty.

Written by Tarryn Pegna | 02 May 2023

Church members attend a service led by Bishop Seth Ndayirukiye in the Diocese of Matana, Burundi, where Tearfund’s local partner has helped see communities transformed through Church and Community Transformation (CCT) training.

Church members attend a service led by Bishop Seth Ndayirukiye in the Diocese of Matana, Burundi, where Tearfund’s local partner has helped see communities transformed through CCT training. Credit: Paul Mbonankira/Tearfund

The church means different things to different people. It can look different. It can sound different. It can find itself in an ancient building, with spires pointing heavenward in expensive stonework… or outdoors, under the shade of a young tree.

No matter where it is, the Christ-following church has always been about the transformation of lives and about community: called by Jesus to first love God (allowing him to transform our own lives), and then to love our neighbours as ourselves (bringing transformation to our communities).

‘A recent independent study for Tearfund found that an incredible £28 of social value can be created for every £1 invested in the church and the community.’

Church in the UK

The most recent census, which showed a steadily declining affiliation with the church, may suggest that the UK church has lost some of its ability to influence change (although, in England, Anglican bishops are still members of the House of Lords). And the news last year made much of the fact that only around ten per cent of the population regularly attend a church service.

Even so, research also showed that almost 3 million UK adults sought help from churches or faith organisations in 2022 because of the cost of living crisis.

During the worst of Covid, churches across the country provided a hub for making sure the most vulnerable were fed and provided for. Many church buildings became food preparation and distribution centres and church members became temporary delivery drivers.

When the Grenfell tragedy occurred in South West London, it was the local church that stepped up to be the first response point for helping those who had lost everything.

The local church around the world

In the same way, around the world, the church is often first to respond in times of need.

From its unique position right within a community, the local church knows intimately the needs of the people it serves. And in many places where Tearfund works, the church has a significant and trusted influence, giving it a voice for change and for justice in society.

The church, as a vehicle for transformation, has the capability to work powerfully and effectively in a way that lasts.

A man stood in front of a church building in Burundi

Through Tearfund training and support, Pastor Gabriel in Burundi says his own life and his whole community has been transformed. Credit: Paul Mbonankira/Tearfund

More than 50 years of Transforming Communities (CCT)

In fact, a recent independent study for Tearfund found that an incredible £28 of social value can be created for every £1 invested in the church and the community.

The church (in all its various forms and denominations) is the largest civil organisation on the planet. Tearfund itself was born out of the church, and for more than 50 years we have worked with and through local churches to help bring practical transformation in millions of people’s lives around the world.

It’s a sustainable, efficient, empowering and highly cost-effective way of helping whole communities lift themselves out of poverty.

‘The Transforming Communities work brings positive, whole-life transformation.’

An empowering church and community response to poverty

The idea of poverty response may bring to mind images of starving children, flies on their sad faces, hands out, begging for help. It’s a clichéd portrayal of need that strips people facing poverty of a sense of dignity and agency.

Of course, there is some deeply distressing truth in that picture. There are many people around the world facing the situation it depicts, and – as for all of us in different ways – there are clearly occasions in life where external help is vital. Sometimes, this help is the difference between life and death, and showing the dire contexts people find themselves in can be crucial to helping others understand that their input is needed – whether that be in prayer, in giving or in some other way.

However, working through the church to address poverty can provide a response that allows those being supported in their need to be agents in their own rescue. Rather than a hand out, it is holding hands and walking together through a situation into a relevant and sustainable solution.

The church works because it’s God’s idea

In 1 Corinthians 12:27, it says, ‘Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.’ Each of us, whatever our gift may be, is important to the whole body.

Whether we’re the part of the body that sacrificially gives our time and finances, or whether we’re the part that starts a self-help group in a community facing poverty, everyone has a role to play.

We are all part of the same body, and verse 26 reminds us, ‘If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it.’

Every part of the body has as much importance and purpose as every other. The church, viewed as the body of Christ, reminds us that we are all created with value to add to the whole. The church is the blueprint for a solution to poverty that is empowering and full of dignity.

How effective is the Transforming Communities programme really?

The findings of our recent study were incredible!

The researchers discovered that a social value of £28 was released for every pound invested by our supporters in Transforming Communities (CCT) work, and here is a bit more of what that looks like:

Compared to people not living in CCT communities, those that do are:

  • 27% more satisfied with their lives in general
  • 113% more likely to work with others on shared projects
  • 51% more likely to have maintained or increased their income in the last year
  • 35% more likely to believe they will be better off in a year’s time (they are hopeful about the future)
  • 46% more likely to speak up and raise issues with decision-makers
  • 35% more likely to feel that they can influence decisions in their community
  • 62% more likely to have invested in assets, such as property or livestock in the last year
  • and 26% more likely to feel confident they could cope with unexpected events in the future.

The study confirmed in numbers what over 50 years has shown in our lived experiences. CCT brings positive, whole-life transformation.

And, the evidence suggests that the impact of Transforming Communities work spreads throughout a community, so that even those who aren’t directly involved in the activities still experience some benefits.

You can read more about the study and its findings here.

‘The evidence suggests that the impact of Transforming Communities work (CCT) spreads throughout a community, so that even those who aren’t directly involved in the activities still experience some benefits.’

So, how does Transforming Communities actually work?

You may have seen Tearfund’s new TV ad. If not, here it is:

See how communities in Burundi are transforming their lives and lifting themselves out of poverty with the help of training from Tearfund.

It talks about training – but what does it actually mean?

Transforming Communities starts with the Bible.

Local church members – or, in many cases, the church leader – receive training to facilitate Bible studies. These studies encourage people to recognise the church’s mandate to address the practical needs in their communities and to identify the resources they have available to start to respond.

The Bible studies always end with a call to action. It may be something small to start with, such as committing to changing a way of thinking, but the action can quickly grow in scale to things like improving or building schools, clinics and roads.

Tearfund and our local partner organisations don’t fund these initiatives – but we equip participants with all the practical knowledge and skills they need to carry out these plans. This might also include things like building self-help groups where people can learn to save together.

In this way, whole churches and communities can find themselves working together to bring about change – helping people to lift themselves out of poverty for good and to realise their God-given potential.

A woman stood in front of a health centre under construction.

Aline in Burundi lost her child because she had no direct access to a health centre. After being part of the CCT process, she and her church decided to build their own health centre. Credit: Paul Mbonankira/Tearfund

How is this work possible?

For more than 50 years, Tearfund has been able to carry out this kind of empowering, transformative work because of the faithful giving of supporters. In many local churches across the UK and other places, we have been blessed by the time, energy, prayers and generosity of Christians who recognise that the main purpose of our faith is not a church service, but service as the church.

Because of this, whole communities like Cecile’s in Burundi have been transformed. Cecile’s community were able to start small businesses, build a health centre and a road, and bring water up to the village.

Cecile’s story

Cecile is a young, married mum with one daughter. She tells us her experience of Transforming Communities:

‘We understood the power of coming together as a church and working together for our own development. A changed church changes the community for the better. As you could see, our congregation was able to build a health centre, a road and bring up water.

‘I am happy to be part of this church as I come to know God and see his hand. I now have a church family, we love and support one another. I played my part in the construction, even if I was not strong, I worked with others in digging the road and moving rocks, and we also contributed some money.

‘Before, we were living like any other poor community – working in our farms and selling our  produce to access money. On Sunday, we would go to church and join different church activities. But now, it is like an awakening. People are more engaged, we have been inspired to change and to change our community and we are now active.

‘It is like an awakening.’
Cecile, CCT participant, Burundi

‘Apart from building the health centre, more people are working hard to change their situation. Some have started small businesses, I’ve also been selling vegetables and I hope that once I get enough capital, I’ll be able to start a small business at the market.

‘I hope that our family will have a better future. My husband and I are both farmers and we hope we will be able to start a small business and earn more money to help us improve our lives and build a house.’

By training churches all over the world, we can empower whole communities like Cecile’s to lift themselves out of poverty and to thrive.

Going forward, dreaming bigger

Every day, thousands of people around the world suffer and die because of poverty. This is not God’s plan. But we, the church, are.

We believe that we all have a part to play in ending extreme poverty and injustice.

That’s why we have a goal to see 250,000 churches lead transformation in their communities and bring an end to extreme poverty.

It’s an ambitious, massive goal. But God is bigger.

You too can partner with local churches and organisations around the world, equipping people to lift themselves out of poverty and fulfil their God-given potential.

We are so grateful to every one of you who makes this work possible through your prayers, giving, awareness-raising and fundraising.

Pray for the church around the world:

    • Pray for your local church – that God will give people the courage, vision and resources to make a difference in the local community and in communities around the world.
    • Pray for local churches in communities facing poverty around the world – that there will be practical transformation that gives people the opportunity to thrive.
    • Pray for the global church – that we will be a living demonstration of the love of Jesus as we prefer one another over ourselves and allow him to use us to be part of the answer to poverty.

Written by

Written by  Tarryn Pegna

Share this page

Share this page to spread the word and help support those in need.

Get our email updates

Learn about our work and stay in touch with Tearfund. Hear about our news, activities and appeals by email.

Sign up now - Get our email updates

Cookie preferences

Your privacy and peace of mind are important to us. We are committed to keeping your data safe. We only collect data from people for specific purposes and once that purpose has finished, we won’t hold on to the data.

For further information, including a full list of individual cookies, please see our privacy policy.

  • These cookies are necessary for the website to function and cannot be switched off in our systems.

  • These cookies allow us to measure and improve the performance of our site. All information these cookies collect is anonymous.

  • These allow for a more personalised experience. For example, they can remember the region you are in, as well as your accessibility settings.

  • These cookies help us to make our adverts personalised to you and allow us to measure the effectiveness of our campaigns.