1. Understand your city.
Get to know the people around you. This sounds simple but I’m amazed at how many pastors overlook some of the most basic ideas. Let’s look at the example Paul sets for understanding your city. When he was at the Areopagus in Acts 17, the Bible tells us that Paul began observing things about the people and their religious practices as he entered Athens. Are we observing the objects of worship around us? Sports teams, local hangouts, shopping centers, all are objects of worship in our communities. Figure out what motivates and excites the people where you live. No one needs to know your city more than you. We must be demographic specialists, knowing our city well enough to formulate a dynamic strategy to capture our city. Get to know the heartbeat of your city if you want to capture it for Christ.
2. See your city the way Jesus sees your city.
In learning about your community, remember to view it as Jesus does. There are three specific ways to do this:
– Theologically. We have to recognize that everyone in your community is made by the same Creator. As descendants of Adam, everyone in your community has a common ancestry. We all share the common problem of sin. Left to ourselves, each of us is lost. Since all of us can be traced back to Adam, there is no room for any form of racism or prejudice that so commonly divides communities. Theologically, we must recognize those around us as equally separated from God.
– Providentially. We must also recognize that God is sovereign and has designated the “wheres” and “whens” of our lives. Acts 17:26 says, “From one man He has made every nation of men to live all over the earth and has determined their appointed times and the boundaries of where they live.” This means not only that God determines your race and nationality, as well as when you will live in His timeline, but He determines where you will live. Therefore, everyone who lives in your community has been brought there providentially as part of God’s plan. We fail to think missionally if we do not constantly ask ourselves why God has placed the people around us that He has.
– Purposefully. Since He has us living at a particular time, in a particular place, we know that it is for a particular reason. He has brought every person to your community for the purpose of using you and your church to share the gospel with them. No one, and I mean no one, is in your city accidentally. Sovereign God has them there for this purpose. Even as Christians, we need to understand that every aspect of our lives is intended to glorify God. This includes the community in which we live. What are you doing to purposefully capture your community to the glory of God? If you are going to capture your city for Jesus Christ, you have to see your city as lost theologically, placed here providentially and destined here purposefully.
3. Invade your city strategically.
What is your specific strategy to reach your city? Do you have one? If not, why not? If we are going to obey the Great Commission, we must become strategic and effective in how we communicate the gospel. Here are three key ideas to help you accomplish this in any size city.
– Identify. In the same way that a microscope can change lenses to look more deeply at an object, you can work toward narrowing down those features that make your community unique. First, do a little research to find out the various people groups represented in your city (the U.S. Census Bureau is a good place to start and can help you break down the age, gender and race demographics as well as socio-economic conditions in your area). Second, look for pockets of people who have come together because of the identifying culture they share. We call these groups cultural clusters. Third, dig deeper to identify the community distinctives within the subcultures around you to find what specifically makes them unique to your community.
– Customize. Remember that what works in one region may not work in another. Do not assume that just because you have seen a ministry be successful somewhere else that your current community will have a similar experience. Develop your own ministry that is unique to your surroundings. Center your church on the message of Jesus while customizing your methods to fit your community. A nice benefit is that you’ll fall in love with your community all over again as you get to know it better. Customize your ministry to impact those around you.
– Intensify. Customizing your ministry to your unique community will create a lot of excitement. Build on that intensity. Always be intentional about fulfilling the Great Commission where you live. Never be content with the status quo. Push yourself and your people to develop new, creative ways to communicate the gospel.
The combination of these three strategic principles can be a very powerful tool in fulfilling the Great Commission. Looking ahead to 2012, there are countless opportunities for local churches all around the world to make the gospel known right where they are. It all happens with the local church. It comes down to each body of believers, wherever they may be, actively seeking to accomplish the primary purpose of the church. We must capture our community for Jesus Christ! If we are going to do this, we must understand our cities, see them the way Jesus does and develop uniquely customized ministry strategies.
We cannot sit this one out. We must gird up, fire up and stand up to capture our community for Jesus Christ!
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Ronnie Floyd is senior pastor of Cross Church (crosschurch.com) in northwest Arkansas, with campuses in Springdale, Pinnacle Hills and Fayetteville, and the author of a newly released book, “Our Last Great Hope.”)