PHILADELPHIA – The illustration of a fingerprint to convey that no two neighborhoods are alike seems like a great way to dispel the myth that one size fits all when it comes to missional engagement. Many communities are heterogeneous–meaning there is diversity related to race, ethnicity, economic status and educational attainment. A fault that many churches make is adopting strategies and means of reaching their communities that have not been examined in light of the humanity around them. In other words, they have not engaged in proper and exhaustive community exegesis to determine real needs and opportunities for the gospel.
In Philadelphia, one of the most diverse cities in the United States, I recently had an opportunity to engage some area pastors with tested tools designed to help them reach their communities. Most of the pastors were involved within urban communities. The reality is that urban communities, with their inherent diversity, are extremely difficult to reach using generic outreach programs/strategies. What may have worked in a homogenous Southern suburban community is not necessarily going to work in an urban, Northeastern, racially diverse enclave. What I wanted to convey to these pastors was the need to prayerfully ask good questions of their environment. One of the tools that I utilized with them (and use with other pastors interested in beginning a missional journey) is the Church Missional Engagement Questionnaire. This questionnaire is like a mirror that helps churches come to grips with who they are–strengths and weaknesses.
Philly Healthy Churches Consultant Pastor Robert Fontell and I work closely together to assist area pastors with fulfilling the mission that Christ has given His church. A meeting he hosts, called a pastors’ cluster, is another venue organized to equip pastors with some tools to equip their congregation for the mission. During this two-hour meeting I also introduced four important tools that churches can use to better understand their community. I started with the need for churches to develop a 1) Contextualized Narrative of the place where they serve, 2) Community Mapping, 3) knowing the neighborhood ‘Commons’ and ultimately how to use all this information in order to establish a faithful presence through 4) Community Symbiotic Relationships.
This is not an exhaustive list of tools, but these can be critical to getting a church moving in the right direction. These tools are utilized alongside a congregational missional shift–pastors and churches must come to fully understand and embrace their missional call (John 20:21)–and, I want to stress, the process of real missional change is not an overnight endeavor and does not come in a box.
All fingerprints are not the same, and all neighborhoods are not the same. Change happens with time and in many cases can be a good thing. When the Church understands this dynamic and, like the Apostle Paul, exegetes her surroundings as he did in Acts 17 while in Athens, then we can appropriately apply the gospel message to the people God has called us to serve. (Acts 17:16-34) We must answer the call of the gospel and, as Paul demonstrated, become students of our surroundings.
If you would like to know more about the Church Missional Engagement Questionnaire, a pastors’ cluster in your area or some of the tools mentioned to assist in making the missional shift please contact me at I look forward to working with you.