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home pictureImagine the impact if members of your church increased the number of meaningful relationships right in their own neighborhoods by ten-fold.

Imagine what might happen — this can develop within 12 months or less— when your members are praying for their own neighbors because they genuinely know them well enough to know their hurts and dreams and spiritual condition.

Imagine the effect on both church and community when your people actually build and maintain multiple lasting, meaningful relationships within strolling distance of their own front doors (and feel deeply satisfied doing it).

You don’t have to imagine. Your church can experience it.

The best new strategies are the ones that seem so obvious and so do-able - the rest of us wonder why we didn't think of it first. It's a bonus when someone else has done all the testing and figuring out, and identified the hidden obstacles, so you just take it up and apply it to your situation.

We came upon just such an idea, a transformational strategy any-sized, one that costs little and dramatically leverages resources, and that works naturally and seamlessly within 21st-Century American culture.

We tested this early on in my home church, and there were surprises.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • The most unlikely church members, the ones who almost never volunteer for outreach, became freelly involved. That alone would be reason enough to try this strategy.

  • In the past, our members signed-up (or were pressed to sign-up) to reach out to their neigghborhoods, beginning with strategies like prayer walking. But many never got past that first sep. With this approach, they began not only walking, they began talking--actually making meaningful connections with neighbors.

  • Our people soon began praying for neighbors' real needs, what the neighbor thought was important, instead of generic prayers for someone behind a door.

  • The whole initiative turned out to be driven by the church members themselves. Our pastoral staff invested surprisingly little time after the start-up.

  • The neighbors, and the community as a whole, reacted with much favor.

We also learned from the experience of a number of churches that the senior pastor and staff must buy into, present, and cast the vision in order to attain sustainability. People will self-motivate on a strategy so close to home, so natural and comfortable, and so results-oriented, but only if they feel they are part of a church-wide movement.

IS THIS YOU?

Every church urges members to reach out to neighbors; every pastor longs that his members connect with their neighbors. But these days, the typical person knows on average less than three people (some studies say 1.5) on his own street or in his residence complex well enough to have a meaningful conversation about personal hopes, fears, or needs.

“We just have to redefine neighborhood,” one pastor suggested to me with a tone of resignation, “because in terms of relationships, neighbor no longer has much significance if it’s about where a person lives.”

He is right in one sense. America is a society that has largely lost the meaning of neighborhood. “Cocooning” in our homes has become the prevalent lifestyle, with “neighbor” and “neighborhood” increasingly just a marketing concept, like a Hallmark movie evoking warm memories of a fading past.

This trend away from in-neighborhood relationships is not appreciably different for church-going Christians than for Americans in general. Many a pastor’s neighborhood outreach strategies founder on the simple fact that the church members who are expected to do the outreach or the inviting, know too few people on their own street or in their own residence complex. Meet-your-neighbor tactics intended to help overcome this obstacle often get artificial.

THE SEARCH FOR A SOLUTION

Several years ago, while I was on staff at Walk Thru the Bible Ministries, we asked the question why churches in third world cultures are growing explosively through member-led ministry and neighborhood connections, while in America the Christians hardly even know their neighbors.

I accepted an assignment to search out a solution, if one existed, any church strategy I could uncover somewhere in the country that

  • Overcomes the "don't know my neighbor" tendency
  • Does so in a way both the church member and the neighbor will welcome
  • Fits contemporary cultural norms and expectations and feels natural
  • Leads toward goals the pastor wants for his church and community
  • Not budget-limiting; costs little to do
  • Replicable and sustainable by any church in almost any community

I went to denominational headquarters, churches, and parachurch ministries. I went to church conventions. I listened to innumerable testimonials about ideas that “worked.” Many did work, at least for the particular characteristics of a particular church, or with a major financial investment by the local church, or in the unique timeframe and demographics of a particular community. None met all six criteria.

When the solution came, it turned out not to be a one-idea strategy, but a multi-layered concept – several great ideas that, uniquely blended, have created something bigger and more remarkable than any of the components.

And remarkably do-able.

Your church could start implementing this in weeks, if you chose to. And see results on at least one very measurable level by the end of the first week.


APPROACH PEOPLE IN A UNIVERSALLY APPRECIATED WAY

A large religious publisher asked on a nationwide survey what churches ought to do more of in order to be credible and true to purpose. Among respondents who are active in a church, the predominant answers focused on sharing Christ (and on worship). The predominant answer from non-church attenders:

Do more for the poor and the hungry

We often validate ourselves by outreach, by the Great Commission. The people we want to reach validate us by the Great Commandment.

But it’s slightly more subtle than that.

The subtly has to do with the very concept of outreach. Outreach categorizes people as "in” or “out,” and targets the ones who are out. We tend to be very skilled at this. We name committees and annual campaigns “outreach,” we have “outreach” training, buy “outreach” programs. But few people like to be targeted.

What people do respond to, is when we seek to come alongside, connect with them naturally and at a meaningful level, develop community with them, listen for their heart’s dream as well as their hurts and needs, discern what God may already have begun within them, and journey with them toward God and toward God’s dreams for them and for us.

As to the matter of doing more for the poor and hungry, people in contemporary America – think of your neighbors – are far more likely to respond to being asked to help, than to be the “target” of our charity. “Withreach” applies to the Great Commandment as well.


CHOOSE A UNIVERSALLY SHARED PURPOSE

First identify a purpose shared by the church, by the neighbors, by the community, and by God.

People everywhere in America, poor or wealthy, rural or urban, native or immigrant, Christian or not, want to do something for the hungry. It’s one of only a few universally-shared purposes in American society today. We only need to watch the proliferation of food-collection drives at Thanksgiving and Christmas to know this.

God said something about that, too:

“Feed the hungry and help those in trouble. Then your light will shine out from the darkness” (Isaiah 58:10, NLT).

So our strategy starts by the church inviting the neighbors to help feed the hungry.
We’ve tested this thousands of times, in scores of communities, in every kind of economic setting and in neighborhoods ranging from trailer parks to apartment buildings to suburban streets to affluent gated communities. This works. If you ask neighbors to help you collect food for the hungry, they will respond, willingly and cheerfully. Moreover, if you follow the simple strategies we uncovered and refined, the neighbors will appreciate you asking, invite you back, and start thinking of you as a friend.

BLEND IN UNIVERSALLY-APPRECIATED PRAYER

As you continue the food collection process, make it a neighborhood project, show personal interest without pressing, and use the appropriate approach, within as little as four months you will be able to ask neighbors for prayer needs, and many will respond. Over subsequent months, if you stick to the plan and stay within the parameters, neighbors will increasingly open up about spiritual needs and heart dreams.

This part works because in contemporary American society one of the few remaining non-taboo religious subjects is prayer. No one is offended by an offer to pray, and even people who don’t believe in God are willing to have someone pray for them.

Within the context of this neighborhood strategy, while the neighbor is joining you in doing Kingdom work (possibly before he is in the Kingdom), you will learn what actually matters to that neighbor, his or her own real dreams and hurts and needs, so that instead of targeting someone for generic prayer, you come alongside and pray for what they feel matters. In so doing, you join with the Holy Spirit in what He has already begun to do that neighbor’s heart.

WHERE DOES THIS STRATEGY LEAD?

What comes of all this? You don’t have to imagine. We’ve listed likely outcomes, short-term and longer-term, on a separate page.

The Process in a Nutshell Red Arrow

How/When to Start Red Arrow

What to expect Red Arrow

 

 

 

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