Navigating the Neighborhood

You know the story, don’t you? A handful of people feel a call from God to start a church in their neighborhood. They pray about what they might become. They seek guidance and assistance from a retired preacher. After weeks of preparation and prayer, they start a new church that immediately draws people from across the street and all throughout the neighborhood. Soon, the church has enough people and funds for its own building and things really begin to take off! As ministries grow, more and more people find out about this dynamic church and soon commuters from all over the area begin making their way to this neighborhood church.

After a few years, fewer and fewer neighbors are drawn to that church. More churches are planted, driving to a church of their choice becomes much easier, and the neighborhood mainstays who birthed the church accelerate in age and eventually die.

Before they know it, the church becomes a stranger in a strange land and the neighborhood in which they were birthed and exist no longer notices them. For some reason, the neighborhood no longer knows the church, and the church no longer knows the neighborhood.

I guarantee you that this story can be told of almost any church, regardless of location or denomination. Because of these drastic changes that have taken place, churches are facing struggles that they’ve never known before. Some of the largest struggles include…

  • Finding authentic and organic ways to reach the community surrounding the church when a majority of church members don’t live in that community.
  • Engaging the congregation to genuinely care for and minister to that community when they live and care for communities and neighborhoods closer to their home.
  • Providing relevant ministry opportunities that speak to those who live around the church and not just those who attend the church.
  • Finding common ground with neighbors who look differently, speak differently, and view family differently than the church does.
  • Understanding how to use the collective voice of the church in support of issues and items that are of importance to the local neighborhood.

Chances are, you probably read those bullet points and thought, “Man, this sounds like I’m trying to figure out a mission field!” If you though that, you’re absolutely right. If you’ve ever thought that your church has left your neighborhood behind or vice versa, the only way to fix that relationship is to start from scratch.

Assume you know nothing about your environment or the people who inhabit it. Study hard data, meet people where they live, and be honest about what needs exist and how your church might have to shift in order to meet them.

But before you start trying to change everything about your church, do the work to see what the landscape is really like. There’s a chance that your church might already be doing some things that could meet the unique needs of your neighborhood, but they just don’t know it.

Churches that are birthed in prayer with a clear call to a specific area will struggle, as all churches do. It’s surprising though, how much we can learn about how to be the church to these evolving neighborhoods now by learning more about the passion and prayer that birthed them in the first place.  

 - Tyler Ward