Thursday, February 18, 2016

Being Part of the Neighborhood is All the Rage

Church decline is not a new subject. Church growth is not a new subject. As a social science practitioner and pastor, these are topics of interest for me. My shelves and data storage drives are filled with information about trends, techniques, and theologies. Akin to weight loss, there are fads associated with growth and decline in churches; yet axioms exist that have been passed through the generations. Whether the idea has centuries of staying power or come around recently, count me among the curious.

Whereas I pay attention to numbers, figures, and trends, I have taken special interest in how congregations look to their neighborhoods for renewal. I have colleagues who spend hundreds of hours and dollars for the concepts and best practices of neighborhood engagement. The church will do well if it invests in being a good neighbor. In my tradition as a Lutheran Christian, the idea that the church ever lost contact with its neighborhood is a problem. Martin Luther's writings and teachings are filled with references to the life of faith intrinsically connected to the neighbor. One of Jesus' most famous parables, the Parable of the Good Samaritan, is shared because someone asks him the question, "who is my neighbor?"

Granted, for all of the good that transit technology has brought to the world, the concept of the neighborhood has rapidly evolved. This evolution has frequently disoriented society to the point that the question "who is my neighbor" is a realistic, profound, and timeless question. Curricula and training programs are springing up that will help you and your church wrestle with the questions posed in history at least since the days Jesus walked the earth.

I may read a study of neighborhood ministry. The training programs look interesting. Yet, Mister Rogers has served me well. His entire show centered on two concepts. 1. Implicitly, you are made in the image of God. That's something. Don't forget it, but I will remind you. 2. You can learn a lot from your neighbors, and they can learn a lot from you. Take turns doing so.

If you're looking for something simpler and a less expensive exploration about the concept of neighbor, try this excellent video series.

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