WTWNC Looking for the poor in the Suburbs: Ten ways to engage mission in the suburbs.


When They Will Not Come” (WTWNC) names the social dilemma of the church in post Christendom when we can no longer assume non-Christians will come to church even when they are seeking God. This new cultural condition forces us to change the way we think about every aspect of the church. WTWNC is a series of posts that reflect on the ways the practice of being Christ’s church/church planting must change because of this new cultural dilemma.

Illustration by Ben Sternke of http://benjaminsternke.typepad.com.

I never wanted to live in the suburbs never mind buy a house here. But God led us here. It’s a story I’ve told elsewhere and so I won’t repeat it here. My wife and I are now buying a house for the first time in six years. We’re doing it for 2 reasons. ONE, for the first time in 6 years, the combination of the down payment we had leftover after we sold out last house (what was left after giving) and mortgage + expenses, now is about the same as if we rented the same house (prices have come down that far). So it makes financial sense. Having said this however, I urge all missional pastor/leaders to be real careful in buying a house or any real estate. I think I’ll go into this in a latter post. TWO, and more importantly, our church is under housed, and we need gathering places in the neighborhood locales if we wish to get going on our vision for missional orders in the burbs. The place we rented wasn’t big enough for this.

As we have been looking at houses, praying over the neighborhoods, seeking where we might buy a house, I have walked the neighborhoods trying to open my eyes to where mission could be engaged. I find the suburbs difficult for mission. The poor are so hard to find. Yet as I walked and prayed, I found my imagination stoked by the Spirit. Mission was all around the rhythms of this place. The poor (of all kinds – see Jonathon Brink’s post on this over at Allelon here) could be found. Here are ten missional places I noticed.

1.) The Hospital: (we’ll be two blocks from a hospital). There are few places where people are this poor (in spirit if not other ways), broken and seeking God than in the hospital. Practicing the presence of Christ in the hospitals is a spiritual discipline. It changes me, it ministers Christ. I could develop a regular weekly rhythm where I could spend a few hours a week assisting the chaplain there at the hospital.

2.) Foreclosures: Foreclosures are popping up (there’s a few in the neighborhood). (Neil Cole gave me this one) These are opportunities for Christians to minister to hurting people, bringing peace, helping them readjust and think differently about life.

3.) A Ride with the Police: (there’s police available in every neighborhood) This is a Tony Jones move (read his account of riding with the local police here). I think it’s a great one. Neil Cole once said that the police know where the trouble spots are in the burbs. They know where the hurting people are, the drug addicted domestic abuse is. He suggested to Christians in the burbs to go on a regular ride with the police, find these places, and find ways to hang out and minister.

4.) The Local Bar: The bars are where people go when they are lonely, searching. (there’s one eight blocks from the house). I envision a regular visit the same time every week. Alan and Deb Hirsch say that for the first year of going to the local bar in a regular rhythm, you are getting to know the locals. By the second year you are the locals, and you have earned the right to be heard.

5.) Mom’s Play Groups: (I noticed young children in this neighborhood). All over the suburbs, through the internet, lonely moms get together under the excuse that their kids need to play together (It’s not an excuse). These moms have some of the greatest community. I’ve witnessed this first hand with our young son. When you get there, look for the hurting left out mom, the single mom, maybe the mom with a troubled child, spend time there caring and supporting. Practice the generous serving spirit of Christ. You will be changed, and others will be too through your ministry.

6.) McDonald’s: (there’s a great McDonald’s in this hood). I don’t care where you go, every McDonald’s has a local breakfast club: usually a group of men who sit around, talk sports and joke around before they go to work. If you go the same time everyday, they’ll soon get to know you and you’re life will become an open book to strangers who become friends. Trust me on this; you don’t even have to try on this one.

7.) The Hockey Rink: (there’s an ice rink about two miles away) Ok my son is only three, but I’m thinking hockey (my first love) already. The only way I could afford it is if I coach. This is in my plans in the next few years. Having hung out with hockey kids, their behavior is rude and their dads are even worse (forgive me if this is an over generalization). Being missional might be as simple as not swearing every 5th word, berating someone publicly and treating every one like cr__p. It might be as powerful as setting the direction for a young kid’s life.

8.) The Elderly Center: (A care center for elderly is next to hospital). The most neglected of our society. There are so many elderly who live in retirement homes who need to talk to someone and understand their lives with someone. Find an elderly care facility and visit someone on a regular basis.

9.) The P.A.D.S. Center: PADS stands for Public Access to Deliver Shelter. (I notice a PADS center two blocks from our house!). It is an excellent organization serving the homeless in the suburbs. One of the things they do is train mentors and put them together with homeless. The missional opportunities here are obvious.

10.) Hospitality with your Next door Neighbors: It is so hard to get to know your neighbor in the burbs. They often don’t want to talk. And if you’re a pastor, you’re rarely home. I must make time to be in neighborhood. But then to overcome the distance, some subversive tactics might be in order. Like sell your lawnmower and ask to borrow your neighbors, ask someone to baby-sit your dog. As time goes on, the barriers come down, and you can share some barbeque in the back yard.

All of these places are within 2 miles of my house, almost all of them within 8 blocks of my house. I am encouraged that this house can be a place for mission.

ONE LAST THING – ONE PERSON CANNOT DO ALL OF THESE! I recommend doing what is already part of your daily life. Then add one and make it part of your weekly rhythm. I aim to add one of these to the ones I already do. Once you’re in a rhythm, aim to simply be Christ to the people you are among. God will use you, opportunities for 1 Pet 3.15-16 will occur regularly. Mission will change you and your life will be take on a new level … of living the Mission.

Where are some of the other opportunities to engage “the poor,” the ones most ready to receive the gospel?

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