Having a Neighborhood Ministry

Susan knew, through conversations, that her neighbors, The Billings, did not go to church. She also saw them out in their yard every Sunday when she and her family came home from church. When her pastor spoke on sharing Christ with friends, she thought of her neighbors. However, Susan had so many questions. Would they laugh at her? Would it affect the good relationship that the two families shared?
Many missionaries have gone from their native shores to endure many disagreeable situations such as unfriendly governments, wild animals and unfamiliar living conditions. Yet, even in our own country, there are significant portions of the population who have not connected with a church, or worse yet, have not made a commitment to Christ.
George Barna’s study in 2004 states that “there has been a 92% increase in the number of unchurched Americans in the last thirteen years. In 1991 there were 39 million unchurched Americans compared with 75 million currently (2004).” According to Barna’s definition, an unchurched adult (18 or older) is one who has not attended a Christian church service within the past six months, not including a holiday service (such as Easter or Christmas) or a special event at a church (such as a wedding or a funeral). Barna also reported that “more than half of unchurched adults considered themselves to be Christian.” These findings and our Biblical mandate should compel us to action, but we may have reservations as to how to go about such an undertaking.
Fortunately, there are several neighborhood evangelism programs that have been highly successful. The success of these programs is based on the simple personal evangelism of just loving your neighbor, sprinkled with some creative ideas.
One of the main nationwide neighborhood ministry groups is the “Lighthouse Movement”, which focuses on “members of churches to be equipped to be lighthouses of prayer, care and share where they live, where they work, and where they go to school.” says Galen TeSelle of the Bowie, Maryland Lighthouse movement. Mr TeSelle‘s ministry has focused on men who need a relationship with Christ. George Barna’s statistics support TeSelle’s concern, stating from his study done in 2000, that “Men are one- third more likely than women to be unchurched (38% of men and 28 % of women are unchurched). Mr. TeSelle believes that “if we don’t reach the man in the household, it is difficult to have active lighthouses or a family lighthouse in that home.” To that end, he has organized a Coalition of Bowie (Maryland) Area Men’s Ministries. He is also trying to get churches to work together to strengthen the Lighthouse movement.
Another dynamic organization, a member of the National Lighthouse Council is Neighbor Hope Ministries, out of Littleton, CO, whose founders are Norm and Becky Wretlind. Their conviction to evangelize their neighbors began after returning from Bolivia as missionaries and entering the business world. They realized they had to re-evaluate their evangelistic methods. They realized that this “missionary” effort to reach their neighbors would need to be more “one on one”, based on true friendships. Neighbor Hope Ministries grew out of their experience where over 60 of their neighbors became new Christians, joined home Bible studies and became the nucleus of what is now a church of over 1500 people. Neighbor Hope Ministries offers valuable resources that the Wretlinds have developed after years of carrying out their Commission once globally, now locally.
The Wretlinds have had positive testimonies with the distribution of the resources they have authored. They have received reports from Winston-Salem, North Carolina to Littleton, Colorado that said that once parties were held, then Bible studies were started.
How do we go about meeting our neighbors and ultimately lead them to Christ? Galen TeSelle says that caring and praying for his neighbors is a “lifestyle for me, not a program.” The Lord simplified the whole process with one commandment: “Love your neighbor.” This is a radical concept, countering the growing isolationism that is so prevalent in neighborhoods today. We are to reach out and be blessings to others.
These ministries offer these common ideas which will aid your outreach:
1) First, lay the foundation for the neighborhood ministry by “prayer walking”, or walking as you pray over a certain area to claim it for God’s Kingdom. You pray for doors to be opened. Meanwhile, the Lord may show your neighbor’s unknown need.
2) Next, form a relationship with your neighbors. Find a way to serve and meet their need. Offer to feed their pets or get their mail and newspapers while they are away. Demonstrate the spirit of Christ and truly love them, unselfishly.
3) Find areas of compatibility. Paul said in I Corinthians 9:22 to “be all things to all people.” Find common ground to build a relationship. Both the Wretlinds and Mr.TeSelle agree that there are “relational neighborhoods”, i.e., sports teams, offices, schools, local parks and grocery stores that can be the cornerstone to inviting someone to your home.
4) Be available: The Wretlinds say one great way to be outside in the good weather, sitting out, gardening, or walking the dog. All provide good opportunities to meet and build relationships. Once the relationship is established, it opens the door to movie nights, horseshoe game nights, Easter egg hunts, and cookouts. All these functions create the closeness that brings people to the foot of the Cross.
5) Be authentic. The world hungers for honesty and truth. Admit your failings or struggles, against the backdrop of the light and help of Christ. Ask the Lord if there is anything blocking your pathway to your neighbor, such as unrepented or unforgiven sin on your part. If there has been a strained relationship in the past, ask for forgiveness. Treat your neighbors with, as the Wretlinds call it, “Golden Rule Evangelism”. This means that you would relate to your neighbors in a way that you would want to be treated if you were the unsaved neighbor.
Although warm weather is a good time for initiating conversation, Christmas is a great season for evangelistic parties. Just make it clear what is the celebration is about, and therefore, it is easier to introduce Christmas Carols and activities that would honor the Lord.
There are many obstacles that would block our way to evangelizing our neighbor. Our pride, apathy, fear of rejection and disobedience are major roadblocks to assuming our ministry to those close to us. Yet, our neighbors would feel more comfortable in our home before they might take the step to attend a church. The Wretlinds warn us “to not be message centered”. When you invite someone to your home, you are just including them as part of the neighborhood group. The Lord can do the rest as long as you make yourself available. If you still struggle with planning your neighborhood ministry, the Lighthouse movement and NeighborHope ministries offer plenty of materials that will aid your efforts.
If you have international neighbors, Christmas is very natural time to introduce them to a traditional American custom. Many internationals that come to the United States are never invited to an American home and they are curious about our beliefs. When you have a Christmas party, invite them to share their celebrations as you share yours.
Children, too can be involved. Birthday parties for Jesus are a great way for children to take a leadership role and share Christ, say the Wretlinds and thus make inroads into adults’ lives. Once Christmas parties have been held, the next step is to begin Bible studies in the New Year.
Neighborhood evangelism calls each of us out of our comfort zone and to live life with a renewed authenticity, by the power of Christ. We are to follow his example by “being in the world, but not of the world” and try to make the world a better place instead of hiding from its problems. Galen TeSelle often uses a quote from the author of the book I’m Gonna Let It Shine by Jim Montgomery. He says … “When it comes to revival, we are often waiting for God to show up and do the miraculous while God is waiting for us to show up and do the obvious.”
To contact Galen TeSelle, see his website at www.turnonthelight-bowie.org .

To contact Norm and Becky Wretlind, find them on the web at www.Neighborhope.com.

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