Just about every church and pastor I know wants to engage in mission. Some focus a majority of their efforts overseas, where unreached people abound, and others put the emphasis on their own “Jerusalem”; the back yards in which they play. Effective mission, perhaps, involves both (Acts 1:8).
One thing that many would agree upon is that local mission tends to be the harder case to crack. For some reason, periodic trips just seem easier than 365-day life cycles (insert innocent sarcasm). Although, shouldn’t local mission efforts then inform the global?
To that end, I’d like to suggest an understanding of community that’s fairly simple, yet is often the missing ingredient in many church’s practice of missional living. It could help reach beyond events and service projects, and provide the scaffolding needed to paint the entire picture. I call this The 6 Major Community Anchor Points, and in this article I’d like to briefly address how a community of faith could view and leverage each one for the fame of Jesus and the benefit of the city.
The 6 Major Community Anchor Points are not meant to encompass everything that any particular community contains, but rather serve as natural entry points to gospel movement, and accelerants of gospel mission. The more churches can intertwine themselves within, and integrate among these anchor points, the more community transformation becomes possible. Let’s take a look.
Neighborhoods – networks of single family homes are perhaps the most obvious place for churches to engage in mission. This is primarily where the people of a local church live and wise churches focus on equipping their people on good neighboring skills, community gatherings, home bible studies and even networks of house churches and/or missional communities. In a sense, every church in the world is multi-site, if we see that where our people live form small clusters of mission that serve as outposts for the gospel to reverberate out, having a far more four-dimensional effect than a single sending-center ever could. Admittedly, the churches that I’ve taken part in leading in the past have focused far too little on neighborhoods.
Schools – community transformation always involves education. A church’s involvement with schools can begin with meeting the needs of struggling students and encouraging teachers, but it doesn’t have to stop there. We should also seek the opportunity to enhance what the schools do through after school programs, mentoring, various summer programs and job training. It’s true that some of these fields are easier to plow than others. But the reality is, public schools in our country are being asked to do more and more, while being given fewer resources to do so. Many are hoping for help. Pagan prayers go out every day for someone to come and fill the gap. Where fathers – and sometimes even mothers – are absent, our schools are taking on more of a load than they were ever designed, or will ever be capable, of carrying. The church, however, can do something about it, and in communities all around this nation many are stepping in to do just that. It will start slower for some than others, but patience, a without-strings-attached approach and a fair amount of prayer, can open doors widely.
Apartments and/or Multi-family Housing – this is perhaps the least reached segment of many populations. Residents are predominantly young, ethnic and transient. Many apartment managers welcome outside groups coming in to build community and help meet the needs of their residents, especially in lower income complexes. This is a natural place to plant leaders and plant churches. The exciting part is the mix of organizations you can find that are already doing some of this. Some do it better than others, but really all that’s needed here is the willingness to collaborate. If those involved can lay aside their brand, and truly and unselfishly seek the good of these micro-communities, the opportunity is basically endless. After school programs, kids clubs, feeding programs during the summer months (even year round), financial skills groups, ESL classes and pancake breakfasts – as well as a good solid (and authentic) effort at friendship building with the management staff – are just a few of the platforms that can allow you entry into these new fields.
Commerce – churches who engage in social-enterprise can affect every aspect of community life over time. Not only does this present the opportunity to meet people where they already are, churches also avail themselves to engage in job training, value-added community services and income generation. In addition, as churches engage in community transformation through city-wide networks, Corporate Social Responsibility efforts can be leveraged to greatly enhance capacity and reach. You’ll need to be able to lay aside doctrinal and denominational lines with this one, especially. Just like Paul says in Ephesians 5:15-16 we should, “be very careful how we live, not as unwise, but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil”. In the context of mission, wisdom and opportunity go hand in hand. And, mission properly executed, requires that we go into spaces that, frankly, many of us are not familiar with. As the scriptures say, “be wise as serpents and peaceful as doves” (Matthew 10:16).
Public Squares – these include government offices and services, as well as natural gathering places for community life, such as downtown areas, public squares and parks. We can add valuable resources to both the place and the people found here, and become a valuable voice in the life of a city. While many cities are adding full-time professional Volunteer Coordinator positions, many churches are asking what they can do to serve the city. These connections in every locality need to be made. You might be afraid of the church-state separation issue, and you’re not alone in that fear. But fear not. This can, and does work if handled with care and precision. Consider launching an independent non-profit organization that can serve as a “backbone organization” and build bridges to form collaborative networks that make it easier for all kinds of organizations to work together (even churches).
Churches – churches can be anchor points with or without permanent facilities, since the building is only one small aspect of who we are. With buildings we can offer free or reduced cost space for community use. Even without buildings, churches often represent a community’s largest volunteer base. Churches who encourage volunteerism throughout the community, not just within the church, can have a dramatic impact on their city.
I believe that proper mission involves all 6 anchor points, because without all working together, we lack the holistic approach needed to achieve community-wide transformation. Without our engaging all of them, we might do some nice things. We might see a few lives changed. We might even grow our church a little. But the synergy of integrating them all, I believe, gets closer to “his kingdom come” a whole lot faster. When we work together, even smaller churches can have a hand in all 6 areas, because of the broader network of which they are a part.
What do you think? What did I miss?