By Steve Matthews
FaithX Senior Associate Consultant
It wasn’t that long ago when the word “redevelopment” was associated with churches in need… maybe even in peril. Some of these faith communities sought grants to repurpose buildings left vacuous by membership migration and/or declining interest in church overall. Some just needed some revitalization and renewal regarding welcoming practices (guest parking, good signage, re-vamp the nursery for children, train friendly greeters, etc.). Often there were mass mailings to local zip codes to inform the public about your church and your programming. Occasionally, there might be some activity in which to invite the community. All of this is/was well-intentioned, but it was based on a false assumption: people are going to be drawn to us and come into our doors, if we do all the right things.
As you know, the culture has been shifting for a long time. In a 2020 Pew research study 65% of adults identified as Christian compared to 85% in 1990. This statistic points to the reality that, like it or not, all churches need to see themselves as perennially redeveloping churches. Our buildings may be in great shape and our worship and programming sharp, but our spiritual infrastructure, our sense of values, mission, and vision may need a serious overhaul. Very, very few people are going to come to us because we think they should (and certainly not enough to make up for the attrition of membership due to death and migration away from Christianity).
So what now? What does redevelopment-for-the-rest-of-us look like in 2023 The answer is so simple… and so hard. Take a deep breath. Here it comes. To be faithful to our mission, we must re-learn what it means to be a kind and attentive neighbor again. We must re-learn our neighborhoods. We must know our neighbors and allow them to know us. How can we know what it means to redevelop our churches for the sake our neighbors if we don’t know who they are? What if the work of the Spirit and the opportunity we have been praying for, is happening outside the walls of the church, hidden in plain sight, and waiting for our “yes?”
What will our “yes” look like? Perhaps it starts with a simple awareness of possibility as you show up more and more in the community’s businesses or attend the neighborhood association meeting. Perhaps you volunteer at a local non-profit or invite church members on regular neighborhood walks. Whom do you meet and invite into conversation? How do you talk about what your faith community means to you?
Another way of coming to know your neighbors is through mapping and local demographics. The make-up of neighborhoods is not static. People and businesses are always coming and going, and landscapes change as “progress” comes to our doors in the shape of new buildings and roads. At FaithX we provide data and demographics in approachable and compelling ways. Through the Neighborhood Insight Report (NIR), you can add fresh perspective, depth, and texture to your understanding of your church’s neighborhood, and when coupled with even limited consulting, you will begin to see new possibilities for connection, resources, and potential new partners. Churches can use the NIR to host community conversations about issues of relevance (like sustainable growth or crime). Perhaps the church might explore ministry alongside a new growing demographic.
What will be your next step in redevelopment? How will you step into closer relationship with those outside of your church? What tools/skills/partners will you need? Pope Francis says “Life is a journey. When we stop, things don’t go right.” As people of faith, we don’t stop. We pray, we discern, we engage, we pay attention, and we move forward as a community.
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