Unlocking Neighborhood Presence

In a previous post I discussed why new plants (or any church for that matter) should have neighborhood presence as a central identity piece.

Easier said than done.

There are challenges to make this reality including: leaders who are figuring it out themselves, no active connection to the neighborhood, superficial relationships, or unrecognized activity. Sometimes we need help to turn ideas into reality.

Here are some simple shifts in our approach to mission that can contribute to building deeper presence. 

Fight Old Paradigm

The church used to share a leading role in the day-to-day lives of Americans. It did so by benefiting from an inherited privilege at the centre of mainstream culture.

Today we don’t share the same inheritance and adjusting to culture shifts has been slow. Often the conventional church still assumes society will come to it for answers to life’s questions. The assumption has prevented necessary change to how the church translates its message.

Our language, beliefs, and stories are foreign to the point newcomers simply can’t belong. To complicate matters, many churches are built to primarily serve the needs of the already churched.

The result? Decades of atrophy resulting in a body less capable of noticing the neighborhood, let alone addressing systemic issues within it.

The Church assumption that society will come to it for answers to life’s questions has prevented necessary change to how the church translates its message. ~ Rohadi Click To Tweet

That doesn’t mean churches aren’t trying, they’re just trying the wrong things. In order to serve the people in a neighborhood (or city) well, establishing relationship must come first.

We need to cherish a posture where the church doesn’t serve the neighborhood, but serves with the neighborhood. What do we need to make this happen?

Sit Humbly

Without a foundation of place the reason to build deeper connection is largely missing. For many, the church has been absent to the needs of the neighborhood. In its place nonprofits, NGOs, and governments fill the void.

We need to value a posture that begins with humbly listening to the stories that surround us. That may work against old paradigms that sought after a “problem” that could be easily fixed. Yet I’ve often found this form of “outreach” compartmentalizes ministry vs. normal life thereby creating a hurdle to belonging.

We need to value a posture that begins with humbly listening to the stories that surround us. ~ Rohadi Click To Tweet

As we become more alert to our weakness connecting with people who don’t look or believe like the church, we need skills to recognize opportunities of kingdom already unfolding. This approach eventually leads to a posture of collaboration versus outlier outreach.

What Does This Look Like in Action?

Here’s how I responded locally in my neighborhood. There are two affordable housing complexes run by the city. I know there are needs in my neighborhood, but I don’t know the best way to respond.

So step one is I looked and inquired for any activity already moving. I discovered my city actually employs a social worker designated to at-risk neighborhoods. Establishing a relationship with the social worker has opened doors for my church to build with new people and serve with already unfolding events.

Coming to the table with a posture of collaboration coupled with a shared host to better the lives in the community, has a been a success. It’s not a guarantee that anyone will come a church service, far from, but it is a way to live out the Gospel already at work.

Try and Try Again

Often church missions or outreach lacks interest to build lasting connections to people. We tend to do what is temporary and easy rather than what requires establishing those longer term relationships.

When my church wanted to improve neighborhood connections we thought: “why not have a community meal?” So far sounds good. We hosted a monthly chili event in the local community center. We discovered right away there was a problem with our posture. We were present but we were not connected. People were used to serving meals rather than having meals together. The Christians who came to help immediately took a place behind the serving tables and did just that, served chili. Then they went and had their meals separately a different tables.

We missed something.

When isolation is crippling our communities, mere outreach handouts won’t address this deeper need. We adjusted by pushing the tables against the walls along with an invitation for the church to eat with everyone. It was the start of building some new and lasting relationships.

By adopting a posture of collaboration we develop new eyes to see the kingdom already at work. We also get to join hopefully stories we may have otherwise missed.

Could there be places and people already at work in your neighborhood that you know nothing about? What would it take to discover them and join the unfolding goodness? 

About the Author


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Author. Entrepreneur. Pastor. Rohadi lives in Canada and co-leads Cypher Church, a multi-ethnic church that currently meets mostly online. Discover his latest book, When We Belong, Reclaiming Christianity on the Margins. He has also published Thrive, Ideas to Lead the Church in Post-Christendom. Also, check out his adult coloring book Soul Coats. Read more from him on his blog, and connect on Twitter & Facebook.

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