5 Ways to Measure Missional Advance and Impact in Your Neighborhood

Over the past month, many people have heard about my “Jericho Road Moment.” That story is part of a bigger story this year where I’m praying and pursuing God’s kingdom work in my neighborhood and city with renewed initiative and intentionality. Over the past couple months, I’ve been working to gain greater clarity on how to make that happen.

Jesus commissioned His disciples to go into the world and make disciples. I believe, first and foremost, Jesus is speaking of cross-cultural engagement of unreached people groups. The thrust has an expansive, horizontal dimension no doubt. But, I also believe that the making of disciples has a depth dimension as well. Even in “reached” areas of our cities, there are many unreached and unengaged people. Let’s be honest: What percentage of our city is unengaged with the gospel? What percentage of people have any proximity to the kingdom of Christ?

A Helpful Diagnostic to Consider

In my city, we have 165,000 people. The best research I could find is that less than 10,000 belong to any church. That means 155,000+ people need the gospel of Jesus Christ. We dwell in the same city, but for all intents and purposes, they are strangers to me and every other Christian and church. When we are not on mission, the way a church “grows” is by shuffling some of the 10,000 when things don’t work out (transfer growth). It may give the appearance that we are reaching our city with the gospel when in reality we are simply receiving Christians who are either new to the area, or done with their previous church. We are skimming the surface with no missional depth to genuinely engage the city, evangelize the lost, and establish new disciples in the faith.

Here’s a helpful diagnostic to consider. How many non-Christians do you know on a first-name basis? How many of them would consider you a friend? What percentage of your relationship investments is with those who do not know Jesus Christ? How accessible are you to those in your world who do not know God? If the members of our church cannot, off the top of their heads, list 3-5 unbelievers they know, then we have missional atrophy. If the overwhelming percentage of relationship investments of church members are with other Christians, then it has become ingrown. If there are not pathways for pursuing those far from God in our lives, then we have put the Great Commission on the shelf to collect dust.

 

The Big Picture

What I’ve done to help me make sense is to answer the questions: What will it take for me to go deep into the unengaged sections of my city to make disciples of Jesus? How can I measure missional advance and impact? To help answer those questions, I have developed this city and neighborhood strategy:

» Strangers need to become Neighbors through missional intentionality.

» Neighbors need to become Acquaintances through incarnational integrity.

» Acquaintances need to become Friends through relational investment.

» Friends need to become Family through evangelical invitation.

» Family needs to become Missionaries through practical instruction.

When I begin, everyone outside of my church family are strangers to me. But when movement takes place, some will become neighbors. Over a period of time, and as deeper engagement takes place, more and more neighbors will become acquaintances, then friends, and then fellow brothers and sisters in Christ who are trained to repeat the process. All of this, in my opinion, is discipleship.

Moving Downward for Gospel Advance

If we are going to make disciples of Jesus Christ, we have to go after “strangers.” Strangers, those far from God, will not be attracted to our Churches attractional efforts or events. We must go to where they are by pursuing them. This begins by having an intentional approach to ordinary living. If we are threads for kingdom fabric, we are to be woven into the heart of the city with everyday rhythms and networking strategies that introduce you to strangers and invite them to become neighbors. These rhythms include where you eat, when you play, how you shop, etc. The networking strategies have to do with purposeful attempts to connect with people on a repeated basis. (I will tease this out more in a follow up post).

> Strangers become neighbors when they know who you are and you know who they are. But the knowledge at this point is very superficial. A neighbor becomes an acquaintance when you begin to have a shared life through the integrity of your incarnational efforts. By that, I mean the sincerity of your words and consistency of your actions create a plausibility to neighbors that gives permission to share life through regular greetings, short conversations, etc.

> Acquaintances become friends when you make an intentional investment so that the rhythms of life with other people sync up so that a shared life is more than a casual conversation. You are in their homes, and they are in your home. You connect on a regular basis. They open up to you in ways that you understand the story of their lives, and as a good listener, learn how the story of the gospel can find redemptive bridges to cross into their world.

> Friends become family when you naturally share with your friends who you are and what is most important to you. You tell them your story and how God has made you new. And through the relationship investment, your friend feels safe asking questions and bringing up objections knowing they are not a project to fix or a sale to make. By seeing the impact of the gospel in your life and sharing the good news in everyday evangelistic conversations, friends are invited to brothers and sisters through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ as Lord.

> Family members become missionaries when they walk with you through life-on-life practical instruction on what it means to follow Jesus. They become fluent in the gospel and shaped by the reign of Christ when seeking first the kingdom of God. And they wrestle with the struggles and share in the successes together with you while joining you as a missionary in their neighborhood and city.

The Significance of This Strategy

There are two main aspects of this strategy that I want to highlight. First, you notice that most everything happens outside the main structures and/or events of the church. I am all about church gathered and recognize the need to do attractional church well, but very little Great Commission advance, in my opinion, is achieve by the “come and see” approach. Second, some may argue, “Why don’t you just preach to strangers and see them trust Christ then and there?” In other words, why don’t you go straight from stranger to family? From my experience, this kind of leap truncates discipleship and make converts, not disciples the goal. I have seen little lasting fruit from evangelism divorced from relationship, presence, and service to the community.

As I plan out my missional engagement to make disciples of Jesus, I want to evaluate the percentage of my relationship investment for gospel advance. How many strangers have become neighbors? How many neighbors can now be considered acquaintances? How many are moving toward becoming friends? Friends to family? Family to missionaries? Where there is no movement to go deep in the community, we will relegate the Great Commission to the swapping of sheep instead of making new disciples of Jesus. We are to be a pioneering people, not a privileged people. Let us go as those who are sent and preach as those who have a saving message, and love as those who have been adopted by our heavenly Father.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Timmy Brister

In the “real world,” I am the founder and president of Gospel Systems, Inc, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization focused on creating and sustaining delivery systems for the advancement of the gospel around the world. In 2010, I started a delivery system called PLNTD – a network for church planting and revitalization focusing on resourcing, relational community, residencies in local churches, and regional networks. In 2012, I started an international delivery system call The Haiti Collective which focuses on equipping indigenous churches through church partnerships in order to care for orphans, make disciples, train leaders, and plant churches in Haiti. In addition to serving as the executive director of these organizations, I have served for 12 years in pastoral ministry with churches in Alabama, Kentucky, and Florida. My passion is to see healthy, growing churches take ownership of the Great Commission to the end that disciples are making disciples, leaders are developed and deployed, and churches are planting churches here and around the world. This is the driving passion of my life and prayer that God would be so glorified in making His name great in our generation.

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COMMENTS

What say you? Leave a comment!

Rev. Frank Beard — 10/02/13 12:28 pm

Great job, good insight!

Recent Comments
comment_post_ID); ?> I am a senior citizen who has lived in many areas of the US, the farthest south being Virginia DC area. There are several church plants in the area--some failed, some doing well. One of the sadist failures was a plant in NW Washington near a large Presbyterian Church (I had been an elder in the church, so I knew the area) where changes in church doctrine was driving many away from the PCUSA churches. There were many mature Christians who lived in the area who were very willing to participate and give generously to the church. Its failure was a loss. The pastor and his wife lived in a VA suburb, wanted something that would appeal to their tastes, which included "praise music". There was a professional piano teacher and several people who had sung in choirs in the area. Their suggestions were completely ignored. Forget that there was joyous participation in singing hymns and silence by many for the praise music. The experienced church leaders that were attending were expected to seek the wisdom of the pastor who did not live in the area rather than have any role in leadership. There is another church plant in Northern Virginia that seems to be going the same way. My take: the pastors should get past their high-school and college days culture and get to know and appreciate the people of the community. Do not try to reproduce Intervarsity or Campus Crusade. Hymns are not a sin and "uneducated" (never graduated from college) should not be ignored as uninformed or stupid. People who have served in and/or live in the area are needed in leadership and not just to serve coffee and give. We all need to pray together and serve God in the community in which there is to be a plant. Glenna Hendricks
 
— Glenna Hendricks
 
comment_post_ID); ?> I like it Mac and do agree with your opinions on the matter. Thanks much
 
— winston
 
comment_post_ID); ?> In this era, we have the opportunity of professional church staff today who utilize their gifting to shape the image and atmosphere of the church organization. But the 100% real impact on the church visitors is genuine evidence of changed lives by the gospel and the active growing discipleship (just as it was in the first century church). One demonstration is financially rich believers ministering equally together with poor believers (how odd, and incredibly miraculous; all humble and bow at the foot of the cross.). It is the awesome contrast of church members vocations, race, gender, age, maturity, gifting, humility that demonstrates to visitors "there is a Spirit in the place". That first-time guest list of 10 are "physical excuses", not spiritual excuses. Those don't tell the story. The condition of facilities and publicly greeting people have zero to do with it. The power of God in and through believers lives dedicated to impact other people with their relationship bridge-building of acceptance of the lost around them. Empowered believers are infectious, loving, helpful, giving, self-less, dynamic, compelling, bold, Christ-filled. As I have been in many church settings domestically and internationally, the facilities can be poor, and yet the fellowship can still be rich. We need to operate with first church humility. People come to Christ on His terms, not on our human abilities of hospitality. A huge catastrophe in a community, disaster relief brings lots of people into churches – many come to the church in those terrible conditions no matter the physical condition of the local church. Off the condition of facility, and onto the condition of God's people (living stones).... and everything else will grow.... and the other physical issues will be corrected by the staff.
 
— Russ Wright
 

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