We talk a lot of theory on this website about how to engage different population groups and cultures in your community. Today, I want to provide a practical example of a real-life church-based ministry implementing a lot of what we talk about. I will leave it unnamed in this article, but it is an actual ministry birthed out of a great church in Durham, NC.
This ministry is engaging a particular neighborhood in the city’s southeast section. The area is highly diverse and typically lower income. In the middle of the neighborhood is a community center that is basically a building with some small classrooms, and some space outside for games on a small field. On a weekly basis, a small group of people head over to this community center in this neighborhood with a grill and start cooking up some hotdogs for the neighborhood residents. The first week, a couple of neighbors were curious as to why this group was using their community center for a cookout and walked over. When they found out the dogs were for them, the word spread. After several weeks of consistency, the neighborhood now expects them to be there, and a group of regulars is forming. They always talk about the gospel, both in conversation, and in a group discussion format. The neighbors all know these people are from a local church and that their goal is to start Bible studies in that neighborhood.
They are already starting to see some good things happen. Several are really interested in the gospel and hopefully regular, evangelistic Bible studies can start soon at the community center and maybe even in some living rooms. It is not the space that is impressive and cooking hot dogs is far from original thinking, but I have high hopes for the methods of ministry they are using to reach this neighborhood.
Here is what I mean:
It is church-based.
This ministry is not some free-floating entity out there trying to make a difference in its city. The man who leads it is currently a pastoral intern at one of the healthy evangelical churches in the city across town. The church is supportive of the ministry and serves as this minister’s spiritual community. It is an extension of the local church’s ministry to its city.
Furthermore, its goal is church-based as well. The end vision is to plant churches in this section of town. There is a lot of great mercy ministry happening, but the focus is on gospel proclamation that leads to Bible studies which can become church plants. So, this work is ultimately birthed out of a local church and desires to end in more local churches.
It is a cooperative effort.
However, this ministry is not the sole endeavor of one church. Instead, it is now a partnership between several area churches that have the same vision for the area and are working together to accomplish it. This means that each week, as they meet with people in the neighborhood members of several local churches are sharing the gospel, meeting new people, handing out hot dogs, and whatever the day calls for. Members from different churches are meeting each other and working together to plant another local church. That is Great Commission cooperation at work.
It is a “go and tell” ministry.
In addition to the heavy emphasis on church-based ministry and partnership, this ministry is structured to be a “go and tell” ministry instead of “come and see.” Instead of using the facilities of the main church and asking residents to come to some event on the grounds, a few people from each church go to the neighborhood. They make themselves a regular fixture there and begin to work their way into that community’s social circles. Instead of pulling individuals away from their community of relationships and trying to assimilate them into the church’s circles, this ministry is taking individual church members and trying to become part of the community’s networks. It is a reverse way of thinking for many when it comes to ministry.
In the end, this approach gains access not just to individuals who were willing to come to their church building but a whole network of people in the community. It also allows them to do the hard work of cultural acquisition, or truly getting to know the culture of the people they are trying to reach. By understanding the worldview and culture of this neighborhood, they will be able to communicate the gospel more effectively.
It is multiplicative not additional.
The results of such a model are multiplicative and not additional. In the “come and see” models we are most familiar using, we may wind up adding a few people who chose to come to our events into our own church body. We may grow one church and add some individuals to an already established community of believers. That is a good thing; however, the “go and tell” ministry can be multiplicative. Since this ministry is not isolating new relationships from their community and chooses to interact with them in their setting, they can reach a whole network of friends and family. This will allow them to begin new works, new Bible studies, and hopefully new churches right there in the neighborhood. The result is multiplicative. More churches reaching more cultures and training up more leaders.
The particular ministry above is focused on an minority neighborhood in Durham. It is not the “minority” part that makes this urban ministry, by the way. And, this methodology is the same I would prescribe to local churches who want to engage people groups around them. Discover the peoples around you, go to them, do cultural acquisition, and proclaim the gospel in such a way that Bible studies can start and eventually churches can be planted.
Pray with me for this cooperative church-based ministry in Durham. Pray that their involvement in this community leads to every resident there hearing the gospel. Pray that it leads to Bible studies in these homes, and pray that one day, there may be a church meeting in that community center for the residents of that neighborhood.
Photo by dinnercraft