The good news of Jesus, the gospel of the Kingdom of God, isn’t abstract. The gospel speaks to universal human concerns, but it also directly addresses the real, unique needs and questions of specific people living in specific places—like your city or town—right now.
One of the fun challenges for church planters and pastors is to figure out what will speak love to your unique community. When you love another person, you try to discover what they like, what they need, what their primary “love language” is, so that you can effectively communicate love to them in what you say and do. In the same way, Jesus is longing for your community to receive the good news of his completely transformative love and presence, and he’s inviting us to join in.
So, let’s talk about some ways to evaluate your community to find where some of those opportunities are.
Pray. This might seem like a “no duh,” suggestion, but you always want to start here. Ask God to give you the eyes to see opportunities in your community you may not have noticed on your own. You might never have dreamed of bringing pizza to strippers while they are on break (I know an outreach group of women who do just that!) in order to develop relationship with them and be able to pray for them, for example. But God knows every opportunity to bring his kingdom in your community. Asking him to show you what they are is the best thing you can do to get started.
Notice needs. Everyone has physical, emotional, and spiritual needs, but which one is most pressing and urgent can be heavily affected by the economics of the community you live in. Take note of some of the most pressing needs in your community—perhaps lots of people are lonely, or apathetic, or they just don’t have enough money to pay their bills and buy food—and start to talk and pray with your church or your team about how you can help meet those needs.
Consider layout and transportation. I don’t know if you’ve thought about this, but the layout of your community makes a huge difference in how people connect with each other. If you’re in a spread out rural community, or a very segmented, driving-oriented suburban area, you can’t do outreach the same way you would in a concentrated urban center where people walk or take public transportation. Notice how people get around and where traffic naturally flows. Find the natural connection spots that are unique to your community—bus or train terminals, the mall, parks, town halls, etc—so that when you try to reach people with the gospel, you’ll have a sense of where they’ll actually be.
Work with the culture. If you want the gospel you preach to be relevant, you need to know what your audience cares about, and how they spend their time. Both things you see as positive and things you see as negative could possibly be part of how God is reaching out to the people around you. The classic example is Paul in Athens, keying into the pagan culture by talking about the altar to the unknown God. What are the altars you can key into? Sports, shopping, bars, festivals, traditions, the outdoors—discover how people are looking for meaning in these ways, and meet them there.
Partner with others who share your vision. If you have vision for your community, if you have noticed needs that you would like to meet, chances are there are others in your community with the same vision and desire to serve. They might even be working toward your shared vision already. Talk to people—government workers, business leaders, non-profit organizers—and find where you have shared vision. See how you can partner with them to bring the kingdom. Even if you don’t agree on everything, your willingness to work toward what is important across religious or political lines shows people that you are more interested in serving than in being right or self-promotion. It will help you be the salt and light of the kingdom in all kinds of places and circles you otherwise might not be able to enter. Not to mention that you can do more when you cooperate and share resources with others!
What are some other ways that you find opportunities for outreach in your town? Comment below—we’d love to hear about it. And if you’d like to hear more discussion on this and other practical outreach concerns, check out the recording of a webinar we did on just this topic earlier this year.