Getting Started in Neighborhood Ministry

“How do I get started in my neighborhood?” This is definitely one of the more frequently asked questions we receive in Navigators Neighbors. It’s an encouraging one because it demonstrates a desire to be engaged in the Great Commission in the neighborhood.

I’ve written before that we resist a program or systematic approach to neighborhood ministry. We just think that every neighborhood is unique and requires a methodology that is both informed by the Holy Spirit and by the people and the place itself.

That’s why prayer is so important. Prayer helps us get on God’s wavelength and begin to get His heart for the people living there and His insight into the place. That is why we highly recommend the practice of prayer-walking and the Thirty-Day Neighborhood Prayer Guide as a way to begin.

Secondly and closely related is the need to know your neighbors. You can’t love them if you don’t know them. It is very helpful to make a neighborhood map. Start with your block or just a couple of blocks and make it your objective to meet everyone on the block. You can do that as you go . . . just introduce yourself and write people’s names on your map. Or you can do something like give cookies or organize a block party as a way to meet them. Just make sure to write their names down and begin to pray for them. Iris and I actually organized a neighborhood “Google Group” so that everyone in a two-block area has everyone else’s contact information. That way, when new people move in, we can invite them into this group and get to know them.

The third way to get started is to examine your habits. Are there things you do outside of your neighborhood that you could do inside? Think about your routines and try to stay as local as possible. Think about the traffic patterns of your neighbors and try to get into the same traffic patterns. Try to support local businesses and restaurants and to get to know the people that own them, work there, and use these establishments.

Finally, look at your calendar and your checkbook. How much time and money are you investing in your place? My travel schedule makes it challenging to stay engaged locally. To mitigate this, I have established rhythms when I’m home. I prayer-walk the neighborhood on Tuesdays and Sundays, and we do something to serve our neighbors on Saturdays. We host a soup and bread night once a quarter and a Bible-reading group on the last Monday of the month. All of this is done when I’m home. When I’m on the road, I trust God to do that which He has done since the beginning of time—to do his work without me!

Let’s fully embrace what it means for us to follow the one who “became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood” (John 1:14, MSG). Looking hard at the life of Jesus will help us to know both how to get started and how to finish. As the author of Hebrews puts it, “Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God.

—Hebrews 12:2, MSG, emphasis mine

Al Engler is the director of Navigators Neighbors and Navigators Workplace. This article begins a series on Frequently Asked Questions regarding neighborhood ministry. To contact him or to learn more about his ministry, click here.