Social Capital Mapping

“Social capital mapping” is simply a formal way of stating the importance listening to and learning from your community, being proactive about discovering and making connections, and building/developing community – door by door, family by family, name by name.  This also entails identifying existing ministries in your church and in the same neighborhood as your church, key leaders and organizers, as well as the individual social capital possessed or needed by the individuals in your community.

Organizing this information creates an excellent resource to begin assessing where and how the church community can become/is a part of the greater community fabric and do its part to help weave back together the pieces that are falling apart.  With a social capital knowledge base it is much easier to identify interconnections and opportunities.   Social capital mapping also serves the vital purpose of helping new people get “up to speed” on their community and make/transfer connections that traditionally have lived and died with a select few in church leadership.

What is Social Capital?

Social capital is a social science concept that refers to connections within and between social networks. Just as a screwdriver (physical capital) or a college education (human capital) can increase productivity (both individual and collective), so do social contacts affect the productivity of individuals and groups.

Sociologist Robert Putnam coined the concept in his influential book “Bowling Alone.” As Putnam puts it, social capital refers to social networks, norms of reciprocity, mutual assistance, and trustworthiness. Some networks link people who are similar in crucial respects and tend to be inward-looking – bonding social capital. Others encompass different types of people and tend to be outward-looking – bridging social capital.

The concept when practically applied may be understood as the medium through which other types of capital are best shared and mobilized – giving the resulting goodwill and social adhesiveness a worth all its own.  Social capital is hard to see/understand/apply in a vacuum which is why mapping a community is a strong first step.

Biblical justice in America is fundamentally linked not to the redistribution of financial capital/wealth, but the redistribution of social capital/wealth. Some Christian communities (at least the ones that have been successful at creating genuine community) are either guilty of hording social capital or are ripe for leading the way in a radical redistribution of the networks, infrastructure, personal resources, education, possessions, personal example, etc. that will truly transform society.

Being Stewards of Social Capital:

Image a typical Christian small group of young adults in an affluent church.  If one person needs a place to stay, a used couch, a lead on a job opportunity, advice about their taxes, help with a family crisis, etc., hopefully all they need to do is ask someone in their group for a connection.  Friends with resources help those lacking resources and no one feels like it’s a hand out and no one goes without.  This is one of the great things about small group based churches. However, from a justice perspective it is easy to take all of that privilege for granted. Many communities simply do not have access to those social or material resources.

Image what it would be like for just one underprivileged inner-city young adult to join that small group community as an equal.  His or her needs may be diverse and many, but would still not have to want for anything or be made to feel like he or she was taking a hand out. Their quality of life would increase dramatically based simply on the social connections made available where previously there were none.

Simple right? Community 101, very Acts 2. Nevertheless, for some reason this can be unknown or extremely complicated in some environments.  That is why it takes an intentional Kingdom community of believers, walking humbly with God, bound by the call of their Lord and Savior, and empowered by the Holy Spirit to make it happen.

This concept can be taken exponentially further until a community that radically and sacrificially leverages its social capital for the sake of others transforms neighborhoods and entire cities. For example: when an influential community with strong Biblical bonds (bonding capital) shows up politically on behalf of others in the city that don’t enjoy the same privilege (bridging capital). This is a community that people would be running to be a part of – which only increases its influence and puts more people in direct contact with the Gospel.

He has shown you what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. ~Micah 6:8