The Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC) initiated a strategy last year to help churches engage a mission field that is estimated to be 95 percent unchurched. The targeted group, said to number in the millions, includes people from all over the world who span the economic spectrum.
It is one of the most significant outreach initiatives in the state, according to Zac Lyons, senior consultant for the BSC Office of Great Commission Partnerships, but many churches may be surprised to discover where these people are located. They are at the nearest apartment complex.
Multifamily housing units account for one of every three occupied homes in the state, according to the latest U.S. Census data. There could be well over 3,000 apartment communities in North Carolina, said Lyons, or possibly more.
BSC contract workers are spear-heading the plan to start or partner with existing ministries in the Metro Charlotte, Triad and Triangle regions. There are currently 86 “engaged” multifamily housing communities in North Carolina.
“We have committed to a vision of seeing a reproducing gospel presence in every single multifamily housing community in the state,” Lyons told the Biblical Recorder.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development categorizes apartment complexes, mobile home parks, townhouse neighborhoods, condominiums, assisted living facilities and other structures with five or more dwelling units as multifamily housing.
Lyons outlined three basic approaches for churches interested in outreach to these environments:
intentional – a church identifies and begins ministering to a community;
incarnational – a person or group of people moves into a community to minister;
indigenous – a ‘missional community’ is started on-site by leaders already residing there.
Lyons also noted the presence of many foreign-born people in multifamily housing communities. Although it is impossible to develop accurate estimates about residential trends in relation to ethnicity, religion and national origin, since those classes are protected by federal discrimination laws and unmonitored by the government, he said anecdotal evidence can offer clues about the presence of internationals in multifamily housing communities.
Traditional immigrants and international students often find multifamily housing communities more accommodating due to convenient locations, access to public transit, lower costs and the likelihood of living near someone with a similar background. Refugees and asylum seekers are strategically placed in apartment complexes by resettlement agencies, Lyons explained.
“We have 1.5 million foreign-born people and children of foreign-born people in the state – about 15 percent of the population of North Carolina,” he said, pointing out the likelihood that significant numbers of those people live in multifamily housing communities.
Joe Maye, pastor of Rise Church in Winston-Salem, N.C., serves as a multifamily housing ministry catalyst for the BSC. Statistics show minimal interaction between residents at these communities, he said in an interview with the Recorder Aug. 30.
“People are in close proximity without community,” Maye said. “With the gospel and the mission that we’ve been given … in this particular mission field – multifamily housing – we have something that the people are hungry for whether or not they would articulate it.”
State convention staff are leading multiple breakout sessions at this year’s annual meeting on best practices for engaging multifamily housing communities, how to get started and evaluating existing outreach ministries.
Lyons encourages interested churches or N.C. Baptists living in multifamily housing communities to contact the state convention for resources and training.
“If you live in a multifamily housing community, you are the access point to that community, or you can be,” he said. “Let us train you to be a missionary where you live, and we’ll help you mobilize your church to come alongside.”