Know Your Neighborhood
Vital congregations are congregations that know their local community. Vital congregations seek to be good neighbors with the people and organizations in their area. Since these congregations know the area well, they can best minister to the hopes and needs of the people around them. Too often congregations get out of touch with the very neighborhood in which they are located. Being out of touch is especially easy if a church's membership lives in a different area than where the church is located. The activities below are suggestions for a congregation that wants to rediscover the people and the community around them.
The activities below are suggested for a "Knowing Your Neighbors Task Force" made up of six to ten leaders and members of the congregation, including the pastor. The group could also include neighbors from the area who are not members of the congregation. Be sure that the task force is affirmed by the church leadership and made know to the congregation.
Activity 1: Where are we? What is our neighborhood like?
To begin, spend at least 30 minutes exploring the neighborhood by foot or by car. Divide into small teams of two or three. Observe as much as you can. Take notes about what stands out to you.
When you return to your church, post a piece of newsprint on the wall and begin to map your neighborhood or your ministry target area.. Indicate significant landmarks, neighborhood boundaries, land divisions, land use, churches, schools, businesses, residences, and services. Use demographic information to discover the socio-economic nature of your community. See the Demographic Tool available in the "Ready, Set, Grow" area of the congregational vitality website.
Go back out and walk around your neighborhood together, in groups of four people or less. If you are in a rural area, drive together through your area. Discover the places where people live and gather.
Pray silently as you go. Ask the Holy Spirit to provide opportunities to meet people and provide insight about what may be happening spiritually in the area. When you return, update your map and discuss what you learned. What did you notice most on your walk or drive?
Activity 2: Learning about your area and neighborhood
Imagine an area expert in your meeting, a person who knows everything about your area's economy, history, people and neighborhoods. What do you want to know? Develop three questions for this expert. Share your questions with each other.
In your study time, develop a plan for discovering responses to those questions. Begin by brainstorming places and people to visit. Identify the questions you could pursue at each place. Review the list that you brain-stormed. Draw a star by the people and places that seem most important and most feasible for your group to visit. Volunteer as individuals, pairs, or small groups to meet one of the identified people or places. Set a meeting time to debrief your experiences and tell the others what you have learned.
Activity 3: What is God's call for us in this place?
Discuss together the following questions light of God's word: for an urban or town area (Psalm 122, Isaiah 62:1-7,12) or in a rural area (Isaiah 35:1- 7) . What does God's care for Zion and Jerusalem show about God's love for this area? What might God's realm look like in this area? What might be God's vision for this neighborhood?
Based on your interviews and experience of your area and neighborhood discuss and chart the following questions: Where have you seen signs of hope? Where have you seen hopelessness? What's working? Which people, agencies, places, or policies are making positive contributions in this area? What's not working? Which people, places, buildings, behaviors, policies, or other issues are problems in the area? How can we be part of the solution? How can we connect with people and institutions to make a positive difference?
Activity 4: Invite your neighbors or community to a neighborhood focus group
Plan a focus group meeting with people from your ministry area or neighborhood. The invitation could be an invitation to the neighboring community, or an invitation to a smaller representative group of neighbors. Be sure that the focus group happens with a great sense of welcome and hospitality. The purpose of the gathering would be to ask neighbors about your community and church. What are the hopes and needs of the people in the area. How can the church be a good neighbor and partner in working to be a community of well-being and welcome for all? What are the people looking for in a congregation? Share the information and insights that the church task force has discovered. Invite others to join with your congregation to serve and reach out to the community and its people.
Activity 5: Reaching out with good news in your neighborhood
Based on what you have heard and discovered about your neighbors and ministry area, ask God to open up ways for your church to respond.
How does your discoveries reinforce your congregation's mission statement? How might your discoveries cause you to re-evaluate your mission statement.
Brainstorm together a list practical and specific ways to reach out with God's good news in your community. Such as:
Door to door visitations to meet your neighbors and introduce your congregation
Bible studies in local meeting places
New ways to worship with your neighbors
Programs that address needs of your community and neighbors
Mother's day out
After School children's programs
Senior social gatherings
Exercise and sports
Share your ideas with the church leaders and congregation for their affirmation. Decide on what you will do first. Invite your neighbors to join you in the planning of the program.
Blessings as you reach out to know your neighbors. Please be in touch with any questions, suggestions or comments.
Rev. David C. Schoen
Minister and Team Leader, Congregational Assessment and Support
700 Prospect Ave.