Understanding Poverty (Part 3): Who Can Help Tackle Poverty? 1

Understanding Poverty (Part 3): Who Can Help Tackle Poverty?

Who will help us contribute to the change? We believe that individuals, the church, businesses, governments and wider civil society all have important roles to play in bringing about change.


All communities and systems are made up of individuals and are shaped by them (just as individuals are shaped by systems and their communities). We have already discussed the way individuals can be changed by a restored relationship with God. This transformation, expressed through values, behaviours and actions, has a knock-on effect for communities and systems.


We believe that there is a special role for the church within civil society at both local and global levels.

In the opening chapters of the book of Acts, Luke tells the story of the disciples after they have received the Great Commission. At this time the group of disciples take on a new corporate identity; ‘the fellowship of believers’ (Acts 2) becomes the church, the body of Christ on earth, continuing his mission until he comes again. As Moltmann (1977) puts it, ‘It is not the church that “has” a mission, but the reverse; Christ’s mission creates itself a church.’9 Therefore the church is commissioned to join in with God’s mission.Our key foundation is ‘integral mission’, which understands that God is working to restore broken relationships by responding holistically to people’s needs, including economic, emotional, spiritual and physical ones. The church, as the body of Christ, therefore has a vital and distinctive role to play in fulfilling this mission. 

Local churches can make three distinctive contributions to international development.

  • THE CHURCH IS INTEGRAL. The physical location of the church at the heart of local communities provides:
    • Access. When international organisations have limited or no access to an area, local faith leaders hold the privileged position of being able to reach where others cannot go. Churches and church leaders can engage local people in discussions about their own needs and ensure that the most vulnerable are included.
    • Immediacy. When a disaster strikes, response times can make all the difference in saving people’s lives, and churches are often some of the first responders in a crisis.
    • Sustainability. The long-term presence and lower turnover rate for church workers compared with NGO staff means churches hold relationships and credibility among the communities they are embedded in, because their staff are part of the community.
  • THE CHURCH IS INSPIRATIONAL. The Christian identity of the church acts as an asset in providing:
    • A Whole-Person Approach. This means addressing the emotional and spiritual needs of those living in poverty or caught up in disasters, alongside their immediate physical problems – an approach we call ‘integral mission’. The worldview of Christians means that they understand their lives and problems in terms of their faith, and can more easily engage with poverty holistically.
    • The church has a biblical mandate to help those in need.
    • Christians see looking after the vulnerable as an outworking of their faith, so are often inspired to offer help, frequently without payment or recognition. This means that the church supplies services and social infrastructure in much of the developing world.
    • The church is one of the largest civil- society networks in the world, and one of the few movements that is both local and global in its reach and influence. This offers enormous potential to shape attitudes and speak up on behalf of the poor and the oppressed, and huge scope for successful initiatives to be replicated across its network.
    • All this makes the church a highly distinctive and effective partner in tackling poverty, and brings huge added value to humanitarian, development and advocacy responses.
    • We acknowledge that the church can sometimes have a negative impact on efforts to end poverty. However, we believe that when the church is living out its biblical mandate, it has a vital role to play in ending poverty.


Governments, business and wider civil society all play important roles in bringing positive change at both local and global levels, when they are focused on the common good. The church must work in partnership with them.

Understanding Poverty (Part 3): Who Can Help Tackle Poverty? 2
  • Governments. Governments help bring about transformation by, for example, ensuring order and stability, delivering and protecting public goods, and providing education and access to basic services. Governments also play a vital role through policies to incentivise positive practices.
  • Business.Business helps bring about transformation by, for example, providing the economic engine that generates the resourcesvto lift whole countries out of poverty; creating (through research and technical innovation), producing (through manufacturing) and distributing (through sales and marketing) the products and services people need to live full lives. Business provides opportunities for employment through which people develop and exercise their creativity and gifts, thus contributing to their communities. People gain fulfilment and empowerment through work, as well as wages which are essential for lifting them out of material poverty. And, significant tax revenues are provided for governments and foreign exchange through trade.
  • Civil Society. Civil society helps bring transformation through:
    • providing a voice for communities
    • helping to resolve conflict at a local level
    • providing relief and services to the vulnerable, particularly in fragile states
    • delivering humanitarian relief during and after a disaster or war
    • people making lifestyle changes to live more sustainably and use fewer resources
    • innovating new approaches to aid and development practice which can be scaled up
    • advocating for changes in policy to enable transformation
    • holding governments to account
    • blowing the whistle on bad business practice 

Acknowledgements: Adapted from Tearfund UK’s booklet “Understanding Poverty” by Anna Ling and Hannah Swithinbank