March 8, 2016

Church as Good Neighbor

Photos: Bishop Mariann Budde
Over the last two weekends I've led workshops called "What's God Up To In Your Neighborhood?". I was fortunate to have two full classrooms of people from across the Diocese that are working hard to see their congregations connect with their surrounding neighborhoods.

Every industry studies who it is that they serve, their constituencies. Call it "market research" if you will. Christian churches are too often the only civic organization in a community that does not make understanding it's neighborhood a priority. If you don't understand the community around you, you won't be able to communicate with them, learn what they care about and how to connect with them in a meaningful way.

Sure, you could take a cookie cutter approach. Many Christian leaders have and do. The assumption goes that if how I communicate the good news of God–in word and deed–worked well in one context, it will do the same in another. That isn't evangelism. That's colonialism. Bad idea. Evangelism requires understanding the people, their passions, their pain and the context in order to communicate in a way that matters in a particular place with a particular people.

Many take issue with the word "evangelism." I'm confident that this unease is not with announcing and demonstrating what God's good news actually is. Rather it's the distortions of this word we've seen embody by others. But more importantly, it's the lack of internalizing God's good news on an individual basis. More on what evangelism is here.

Some congregation leaders will argue that this is not important because theirs is a commuter church. Certainly mega-churches experience this phenomenon but so do "brand" churches. Denominational churches will often have folks drive by several other Christian churches to attend theirs. But the reality is church-brand loyalty is on the decline. It was tied to a generation that is aging. While you can't plan on commuter-church growth you can plan on neighborhood growth.

This obviously implies that I find a value in church growth. It's not popular among a growing number of Christian leaders who don't want to be measured by attendance and contributions. That's fine but it's not sustainable. Go work somewhere else. Sell the building. The problem isn't the quantitative metrics we use but the lack qualitative metrics. We need to understand what precedes "nickels and noses". I talked a bit about that here.

Be the church that would be missed if you were no longer there.

You can find some of the resources I used over the last two Saturdays here.