Jess Smith is the Operations Director of Common Grace. We sat down with Jess to find out how this online community that has been around for only 3 years has grown to over 30,000 people.
Can you give us some background to Common Grace and its purpose
Common Grace is an online community of over 30,000 Australian people passionate about Jesus and justice.
Started in late 2014, Common Grace seeks to support and accelerate an Australian Christian movement for justice. The initiative is focused on inspiring and empowering Christians to think, act and speak like Jesus for a more just world.
Common Grace’s approach is to celebrate the local church as it looks like Jesus in the world. Common Grace seeks to form people in faith as recipients of grace and obedient to Jesus’ call to go out in love of neighbour. Common Grace mobilises Christians to be a faithful presence for God in a needy world.
We have adopted the online campaigning strategies of existing organisations like GetUp! and Avaaz, but with a deep theological underpinning and the ability to offer a provocative yet merciful Christian voice in the public sphere.
To date, Common Grace has focused on four justice issues; people seeking Asylum, Climate Change, Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander peoples, and Domestic & Family Violence. We have a Board and small part-time staff team supported by over twenty volunteers. We are an established charitable company limited by guarantee, with TCC endorsement. We are powered by volunteer issue teams made up of Christian practitioners, policy experts and church leaders passionate to see the church bringing gracious change to injustice.
It is popular to talk about building a movement, but what does that look like and how do you measure it?
The vision of movement building is to create something bigger than any one person or organisation. It’s about inspiring multiple people to a common identity, vision or passion that they take on and own themselves. The success of a movement is not simply the success of the leaders or organisation but a broader change of culture, as individuals are given a shared DNA and mobilised to be agents of change and transformation in their communities.
In our world, that looks like Common Grace educating, inspiring, celebrating and providing initial actions that make people more passionate about Jesus & justice – this is sharing DNA and forming people for the movement. The real movement work then happens as individuals get inspired and as communities start acting together in different ways.
For example Common Grace has been working with Aboriginal Christian leader Brooke Prentis who has been calling Christians to hear of the grief of Aboriginal peoples in the face of multiple injustices. As individuals and communities have listened and learned from Brooke and other Aboriginal Christians, they have themselves begun a journey of friendship, of learning and of change. Last January as Australia marked ‘Australia Day’, individuals in our movement responded at various levels of depth, with over 8,000 people sharing an acknowledgement of country on their social media pages (willing to be personal identified with a belief of the movement), and over 800 attending services of prayer and lament in local churches. These actions of a ‘movement’ are one way to measure whether something is building. Alongside these ‘action’ or participation measures, it’s often the more qualitative stories of individuals and communities being inspired, to think, act and speak more of Jesus and justice that are markers of measurement.
What sorts of ideas/projects/products lend themselves to building a movement?
Movements are about broad culture change, about identity and community transformation. When you have a ‘big’ vision, you will often dream of seeing not just your small project or product succeed but it multiply and snowball to transform whole communities and societies. Ideas/projects/products that have a vision that are bigger than themselves, that seek to bless and improve the wellbeing of others are perfectly suited to build movements.
We know that from small seeds big things grow and actions on a small scale can be stepping stones to greater change, so I think that many ideas/projects/products can also have a movement component and we need to live within the tension of this; a vision for broad societal change alongside the day to day smaller scale actions of delivering our ideas/projects/products.
What have you found satisfying about the process of building a movement?
I long to see the Australian Christian church ever more passionate about Jesus. I long to see the Australian Christian church turned outward in service, listening to the least, lost and most vulnerable among our community and being known for our blessing and care. We see these things already, but I want more of it. I find that vision inspiring and believe that through forming Christians in their faith & joining the dots to justice, celebrating where we already see the church living this way and providing actions to get involved, helps build to this vision. As a big picture person, I’m constantly frustrated by the fact that our movement is not as big or strong as where I can imagine it, but I’m energised by the hope and I know that I couldn’t work in a context where I didn’t have a sense of contributing to that greater transformation that I long for.