Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Missional in Suburbia seminar, and questions for the suburban context

This past weekend I was in the suburbs of Philadelphia to do a seminar on being Missional in Suburbia. It was hosted by The Well, a church that has taken its suburban context seriously, thanks to its copastors Todd Hiestand and Gary Alloway. They recently hosted a forum on suburban poverty and went on a mission trip to their own suburb.

We had some great interaction, and they've posted audio from the seminar online. I have not listened to them (I hate hearing myself talk) so I'm not sure what all was captured, but you can find links for downloading the audio here. There are also some blog posts and comments from folks who attended here and here.

Thanks also to the Ecclesia Network and Biblical Seminary's C4ML (Catalyst for Missional Leadership) for cosponsoring the event. John Franke, professor of theology at Biblical Seminary, was on the closing panel, and he validated the importance of thinking missionally about the suburban context. It was great to interact with him and others on this topic; he pressed us all to think theologically about suburbia, especially the nature of the gospel and God's mission in suburbia. We talked about how the gospel cannot be overly individualized (as has often been the case in evangelicalism); the gospel must be good news not only for individuals, but also for communities and places. It's not merely a vehicle for self-improvement to make your suburban life a better suburban life; the gospel must challenge suburban assumptions and point to a different kind of life.

To facilitate processing and contextual application, I had people break up into smaller groups (organized by geography) and discuss the following questions. I'm posting them here so anybody can use them to diagnose their own suburban context and think about their church's role in suburban mission. Feel free to adapt and share them with your local churches and communities.

Part 1: Exploring Your Suburban Context

Describe your suburban context, where you live/work/worship/minister. How did you come to live here? What brought you to the area?

What would you say is distinctive about your particular location? Consider these cultural cues:

· What institutions are important in your suburban area? Commercial, governmental, nonprofit, educational, entertainment, etc.?

· What major employers are based in your area?

· What kinds of local festivals or community events are held in your area?

· What different kinds of residents live in your area? Where do they live?

· Why do people move to your local suburb rather than others?

· How is your particular suburb different from others nearby?

What are the needs of your suburban area? Assess the “as is.” Consider physical, economic, social, emotional, relational, spiritual dimensions.

What would your suburb look like if the kingdom of God became more manifest there? What problems might be alleviated? How would your suburb be different?

What is your vision for your suburb, your neighborhood, your community? Describe the “could be.”

Part 2: Identifying Your Church’s Role

Why do people come to your church? (If you don’t know, call some ordinary church members right now and ask them, “Out of all the churches in the area, why did you decide to visit our church? What made you stay?”)

Why do people leave your church?

What’s your church’s distinctive DNA? How is it different from other churches in your area?

What does your church do that other churches don’t do? What can your church do that other churches can’t do?

What do you wish your church could do? Is that hope anchored in reality?

Consider the “as is” and “could be” discussed in part 1. What is your church’s role in contributing toward this “could be”?

How can your church partner with other churches in moving toward this “could be”?

1 comment:

Andy Rowell said...


I thought of you when I saw this in today's NY Times.

August 12, 2008, 12:26 pm
What Is the Future of Suburbia? A Freakonomics Quorum

By Stephen J. Dubner

What Is the Future of Suburbia? A Freakonomics Quorum

Andy Rowell
Doctor of Theology Student
Duke Divinity School
Durham, North Carolina
Blog: Church Leadership Conversations