Since 2009, Brian Fikkert and Steve Corbett’s landmark book “When Helping Hurts” has sold more than 450,000 copies and changed the way churches do ministry to the poor. But for all the book’s impact, the Chalmers Center — the research group that launched the book — received feedback from readers who wanted simpler, more actionable steps. The response was “Are You a Good Neighbor?”, an online course to help Christians discover how to better love the poor in their communities. 

Launched in October 2017, the course features a series of videos with Fikkert, Corbett, and other thought leaders in poverty-alleviation ministry. Course segments deal with the root of poverty, money decisions, hospitality, church culture, and choices about where to live and work. The goal is to help participants self-assess their ability to develop relationships across both economic and racial lines. 

“The ideal learner will commit to new postures and practices in their weekly rhythms of life   — in the economic space, the church space, and the hospitality space — that move them toward togetherness across economic lines.”

“The ideal learner will commit to brand-new postures and practices in their weekly rhythms of life — in the economic space, the church space, and the hospitality space — that move them toward togetherness across economic lines,” explains John Mark Bowers, director of program design and engagement at the Chalmers Center, and one of the presenters of the course. 

The course comes with a variety of tools, including a “Friendship Index” quiz that asks participants to evaluate their capacity for relationships with those who are different. For example, if they would borrow eggs from a lower-income neighbor or if/when they have attended a worship service of a different cultural style. 

Among other things, participants will hopefully do the following: Lament the ways that wealth and class have divided people, engage in a new experience with a materially poor person or community, evaluate their church in terms of cultural accessibility for the poor, and commit to new weekly rhythms that cause them to interact more regularly with the materially poor. 

“We want to help people foster humility,” says Justin Lonas, assistant to the president. “None of us have all of the answers for the brokenness in our communities. But if we’re not willing to admit that we don’t have all the answers, and not willing to admit that there are things that we haven’t even thought about that are contributing to the problems, we’re never going to make the impact. Ideally, someone would take this course and be moved to repentance, prayer, and reflection on ‘What are the aspects of the Christian life that I have completely missed out on because of the cares of this world?’”

Chalmers will launch a small-group version later this year. “Anyone who takes it will be better equipped to volunteer for a ministry project or to become a more patient listener within the community and church,” adds Lonas.             

To learn more about the course or to sign up, visit areyouagoodneighbor.org.