Our church is located in an inner city area of Houston, just north of the Heights historic district, along I-610. Most of the homes in the immediate neighborhood were built between 1946 and 1960, when the area was on the fringe of the city. They are very uniquely designed frame homes, in a Norman Rockwell kind of setting among the woods that cover the north side of the city. The area has been through several transitions, and is currently seeing a revitalization and renewal as families move back into the city to avoid hour long commutes to work from the suburbs. The population is mostly professional or upper middle class, families with pre-teen and teenage children. The median price of a renovated home is well over $300,000 so the population moving back in is fairly affluent. It is also largely unchurched, and not particularly open or responsive to traditional evangelistic approaches.
At one time, our church had an extensive small groups ministry, and we are now involved in using the framework for this ministry to regroup, train group leaders and members in relational evangelism, and turn them loose to start their own small groups. The more groups we have, the more potential contact the group members will have with the people in the neighborhoods around where their groups are meeting. This fall, we had an emphasis on identifying a neighbor with whom a relationship could be built for the eventual purpose of sharing the gospel. Although there were not as many people participating in that as we would have liked, it provided us with some opportunities to train our people in relational evangelism.
One of the things that happens in a church is that, as people develop relationships within the body, they get to a point where they realize they do not have very many relationships with lost people. Yet, because of the demands on their time, their involvement in church activities keeps them from participating in things where they come in contact with lost people. We are trying to arrange things to enable our members to be in places where they can build relationships with people who are not believers.
It is very important to understand that when you begin a relationship with a lost person, you are in that relationship for the long haul, whether they respond to your ministry of the gospel or not. Any time you build a relationship with someone who is not a believer, you must be prepared to continue that relationship whether they become a Christian as a result of it or not. That’s a risk that you have to take, since not everyone is going to respond. But if someone senses that your only motivation for being their friend was to convert them to your faith, you may do them more harm than good. Once you build your relationship, stay in it.
The small groups, along with our regular church services and Bible study, form a framework to train leaders and support the outreach ministry. We are also working to assimilate guests and new members into our worship services and Bible study on Sunday morning. We do a contemporary style worship service at 11:00 in the hope that it will be a place where those who we reach in a small group can make a connection with the church.
This is new for most of us. It requires patience, prayer and a lot of encouragement. We are still doing a lot of training. Investing in relationships with people who do not share our beliefs or values is risky, and it’s scary. There are no silver bullets, no magic “keys” to making it work every time. The bottom line is that you must be motivated by a deep love for lost people, and realize that if they are going to be brought into the kingdom, it is up to us. But we do know that God is with us wherever we go. Traditional forms of evangelism that once worked well no longer do. We’ve been given a field in which to work, and we need to be obedient by going into it and working it.