When I was growing up in the 1980s, my nearest neighborhood grocery store looked something like this:
Inside, you could fill your lunchbox with food like this:
Today, and for some years now, the grocery story for this neighborhood looks more like this:
You can fill your lunchbox with food like this:
The neighborhood surrounding my current church doesn’t have a grocery store. In 1957, a typical house in the neighborhood looked like this:
It’s not unlikely that it was inhabited by a family of four. Dad was possibly an engineer at a nearby manufacturing plant. The family had one car. The kids walked or rode their bikes to school. Mom didn’t work outside the home. The family sat down to dinner at 6 p.m. every night. They didn’t mind sharing one bathroom. The family was Methodist, so they attended the neighborhood Methodist church. Every Sunday. They tithed a tenth of their income and Mom wore a hat to church.
Here is what a typical home in our neighborhood looks like today:
The house might still contain a young family. But baby #2 is on the way, so they are trying to figure out if they want to build an addition to the house or move to another neighborhood that has larger homes with two-car garages. The parents grew up attending church, but they stopped attending regularly when they went to college. When they moved to the area, they didn’t find a church home until their first child was born. They started attending on Sundays after bringing their child to the church preschool for a couple of years. They love the social connections of church and occasionally remain for the worship service. They are often out of town, though, keeping in touch with family in another state and college friends throughout the state and country.
In his book, Smart Compassion: How to Stop Doing Outreach and Start Making Change, Wesley Furlong writes, “One of the greatest barriers hindering churches from making a significant impact in their communities is a lack of knowledge. It isn’t apathy, insensitivity, or a lack of resources.” (p. 14)
We miss opportunities to be in ministry with kids after school because we assume they have a place to be after the final bell rings (like we did). We overlook a need to add a bi-lingual worship service because we assume the people in our community speak English (like we do). We believe we know what ministry programs are appealing to a particular age group, because the programs would have been appealing to us at that stage of our life (or because the program is appealing to us in our current stage of life).
The truth is, it is easy for us to make assumptions, even about our own neighborhood. Often, churches are slow to see change that is occurring “right under our noses.” So we keep doing the same things we’ve always done. We make ministry plans using the templates that used to be wildly successful, and overlook the fact that these templates no longer work for the people we are trying to reach. We can put time, money and valuable volunteer resources into ministries that fail to have a significant impact because we really don’t know what is needed.
There’s more to come on this topic. For now, I invite you to take a drive – maybe use your house as a central location, maybe use your church. Drive a mile in each direction. Take side roads. Notice anything that surprises you? What needs might exist in your community, based on what you saw as you drove through it?
Prayer Focus: Is there an area in your community where you have witnessed prejudice and racism as different cultures mingle? Pray for tolerance, openness and understanding to take the place of suspicion and hostility.