How would you define your church’s community? Yes, it includes the people already gathered as part of the congregation, but our primary focus must be those yet-to-be gathered. In fact, in ¶202 in the UMC Book of Discipline, it states, “Therefore, the local church is to minister to persons in the community where the church is located, to provide appropriate training and nurture to all…”
Who specifically are these yet-to-be-gathered people your church needs to focus on reaching? Yes, the world is your parish; however, no one church can be all things to all people. Your church was planted in your particular neighborhood to reach that neighborhood. As long as your church is sitting in that location, your church has an obligation and a responsibility to reach these neighbors for Jesus! If your church is unwilling or unable to do so, it is time to turn the keys over to those who are willing and able. The world needs Jesus too much for any church to ignore that the Great Commission needs to start within its own neighborhood.
It is important to specifically define your neighborhood, aka mission field. Your neighborhood includes the immediate area surrounding the church facility. For smaller communities and rural areas, the neighborhood is likely the entire town. For more densely populated areas, it could be just a few blocks. Typically, the area you want to identify has a population under ten thousand. It is the area in which people of the area typically live, shop, eat, and where the children go to school, etc. Sometimes natural transitions exist between neighborhoods where people can sense they are moving from one area to the next. It is helpful to identify these natural boundaries.
The mission field can be defined by indicators such as a radius around your church location, a zip code, parameters of a school district, or by a particular road or landmark in each direction (i.e., Maple Street to the north, the railroad tracks to the south, 20th Street to the west, and Lazy River to the east).
Church leaders must not take this exercise lightly or consider it an exercise in futility. This is not only important work, but this is also holy work! Take prayer walks through the neighborhood. Who is God calling you to reach? Spend some time in discernment. This work will not be accomplished in one meeting at a table looking at a map. This research enables you to specifically identify where your congregation will invest in new relationships, get to know people inextricably, and journey with them in their faith walk.
First, name your mission field (boundaries). Claim your mission field (God is calling us to reach the people living here). Third, take responsibility for reaching your neighbors (take intentional steps to invest relationally with cultural competence).