Engaging Your Mission Field
Listen and LearnThe best way to learn about the mission field around your church is to listen and learn. While demographic reports from public and private resources offer much data about a community, you cannot discover your mission field exclusively by studying reports. Data must be tested by walking around and spending time with the people who live in your community. Ministries that bless communities in Jesus’ name often arise out of unorganized, crazy, and chaotic conversations where we listen for the hopes and dreams of people within a mission field. This begins not with big events or large numbers of people. It involvesface-to-face conversations sitting in a park, a diner, or a coffee shop. A pastor sat at Venice Beach, California, with a sign that read, “Tell me your story and I will give you a dollar.” A line formed, and she was busy all afternoon! As you listen, don’t let your pre-set ideas or preconceived notions shape the conversation. Rather ask simply what are the challenges, hopes, longings, and dreams of your neighbors. As you observe and listen, determine if there are clusters of themes, dreams, and challenges that face people in your mission field. What ministries might address the brokenness revealed? You may discover that there are already places within your church where you can build meaningful relationships with members of your community — for example, the participants in your English as a Second Language (ESL) program, the neighborhood youth who play basketball in your parking lot, the households who utilize your food pantry and clothing bank, or the families who receive your annual Thanksgiving baskets. Yet too often these programs operate in ways that inhibit positive relationships and communicate an “us and them” attitude.
Turning Missional Gestures into Missional EncountersA congregation in southern California discovered that their food and clothing bank was inadvertently communicating, “You are not worthy to come to worship, but you can come to the back of the church for a handout.” As a result, very few people were attending their Spanish language worship service. They turned their program upside down so as to incorporate worship, food, clothing, and fellowship into a more unified whole, resulting in exponential growth. A congregation in Wichita, Kansas, offers a 30-minute worship time after their ESL program each week. About 125 of the 150 ESL participants stay for worship. In central Virginia, a new rural church, working with de-churched people, began as a movement to love and care for neighbors through ministries such as GED classes and a Thrift Store. Only after the community relationships were built did they begin to offer worship. Several churches in the Dallas area have added Bible studies and midweek worship inside their clothing bank for the households that rely on that program. In Dayton, Ohio, a church has added a donut and coffee table to their weekly food and clothing distribution. A church member with the gift of warm hospitality serves as host, inviting each person to stay for the 30-minute Bible study that morning. These congregations are finding ways to make disciples and serve, fulfilling the Gospel mandates in both Matthew 25 and Matthew 28.