What does Community Development mean?

[contentblock id=30 img=gcb.png]

We asked Graeme & Eli Mallett to discuss their thoughts on ‘community development’ as they adjust to life and ministry in Mahajanga, Madagascar.

Community living

Living in community is tied up with one of the most important Malagasy cultural values – that of ‘Fihavanana’. Fihavanana is an idea which is difficult to translate but is basically the importance of living in harmony with each other.Vaguely underpinning this value is the concept that all Malagasy people come from one ancestor. As such, many Malagasy people live interdependent lives deeply intertwined with those of their larger families, neighbours and local communities.


Made in the image of God

Pastor Tovo has worked in Mahajanga for many years. As well as being one of the leaders of the Baptist church in Mahajanga, Madagascar, he also heads up the Union des Eglises Evangéliques de Mahajanga (UEEM) which includes over 30 evangelical churches of various denominations.


He shares, “One of the most important aspects of community development is about training people, particularly Christians, to realise the gifts and resources God has given them to provide for their needs. This comes from a creation theology and the profound revelation that we are all made in the image of God.” And as part of that, he emphasises Paul’s teaching in 2 Thessalonians 3:10b: ‘Those unwilling to work will not get to eat’. For members of UEEM, community development is part and parcel of church planting. Many of the local pastors in UEEM have started churches in the bush around Mahajanga amongst the unreached Sakalava people. Often they will start a school as part of their church plant as this meets a real need of the community they are reaching.

However, when people normally talk about community development they are not talking about growing a sense of community but instead mean a sustainable approach to economic and social development driven by the local community. Behind this is an implicit faith in ‘progress’ – perhaps one of the driving forces of Western capitalism – the idea that our society, economy, technology and civilisation are evolving inevitably to become better and better. This view sees a poorer country, such as Madagascar, as being in an earlier stage of evolution, and in need of assistance to speed up its evolution to Western levels.

Communities transformed

But what do Christians mean when we talk about community development? Well often we mean the same as secular organisations but we’re not sure that’s really what’s on God’s heart. It is clear, throughout the Bible, that God has a special place for the poor. The first public message of Jesus that Luke records (Luke 4:16-30) has Jesus announcing that he has come to ‘bring good news to the poor’. If our church planting does not address the physical needs of the poor we have only half the Gospel message and are not talking about the good news that God’s kingdom is now (as well as not yet).

As a family we believe that God wants to use his church in Mahajanga to reach the lost and minister to the poor here. To this end we are currently learning Malagasy, building relationships with the local churches and praying together for the Kingdom to advance. We want to further encourage and catalyse the churches to develop a Biblical, Malagasy take on community development whilst starting church planting movements amongst the local unreached people groups.

Discipling unreached people groups, who consider themselves to be poor, that they are made in the image of God, that they are important to God, that God has equipped them with many gifts and resources, that God has given them the responsibility of caring for his creation, is all part of the good news that we are redeemed through the blood of his Son.

Related stories


There are so many ways you can be a part of reaching Africa's unreached peoples with the good news of Jesus Christ.