The facts about your area: do you really know them?

Do you have the facts about the community you are seeking to reach? When Paul went into Athens, he had no population data or demographic profiles to help him. But it is abundantly clear that he took time and care to observe the nature of the community into which he took the gospel.

When Paul went into Athens, he had no population data or demographic profiles to help him. But it is abundantly clear that he took time and care to observe the nature of the community into which he took the gospel. In the early part of Acts 17 we see him engaging the Jewish community in their synagogues. Then we see him engaging the wider secular community, reasoning with people in the market place and talking with Epicurean and Stoic philosophers. He clearly had a mind to understand the worldview of the people with whom he was going to share the Gospel.

Later, as he was given opportunity to speak at the meeting of the Areopagus, he began by reflecting upon his observation of the city and the things of importance to the Athenians. His starting point for sharing the Gospel message was one with which his listeners could readily identify. He didn’t begin by quoting unfamiliar Old Testament scriptures, but rather he chose to draw upon quotations from their pagan poets. This immediately gave him a point of connection and, having made the connection, he then resolutely presented the message of Christ together with the call to repentance and faith. If we are to meaningfully engage our communities for the sake of the Gospel, we must look first at the makeup and worldviews they embrace. Understanding these things allows us, under the direction of the Spirit of God, to develop suitable strategies for meaningful engagement and presentation of the Gospel of the Lord Jesus.

At the City Tabernacle Baptist Church in Brisbane, we have adopted a tagline: In the city, for the city. We are continually looking to develop effective strategies to meaningfully engage our city. Demographic research on our immediate area has helped enormously in defining our ministry priorities. Research such as that provided by NCLS has helped us identify that, within a 1km radius of our church, there are more than 10,000 people living in high-rise residential units. Given the door knock approach is inappropriate in this context; one of our initiatives has been the development of our Better City Life magazine. Better City Life is a small glossy presentation that we direct mail to all high-rise residential unit residents, giving us a way past the intercoms and locked front doors. The statistics have also shown us that the people living within these high-rise units are from a wide variety of ethnic backgrounds. Around half do not speak English as their first language.

We know that many residents are international guests from either South East Asia or South America who have come to Brisbane to undertake short to medium term English language courses. Having this information led us to establish free conversational English classes in the church hall each Wednesday afternoon. Given the many students who live on limited income, we then extended this to provide a free community meal for those who come. Over recent years we have seen numbers of folk come to faith in Christ and be baptised. Many are actively involved in the church while others have since returned to their country of origin.

A number of other initiatives have resulted from observation of and research into our community. A regular Friday morning sausage sizzle provides many opportunities for engagement as people make their way to work. One of our young couples established a coffee cart, which operates out the front of the church. As people buy coffee and sit under the large sidewalk umbrellas there have been numerous opportunities to share the Gospel both in personal conversation and through free materials such as CDs and Challenge newspapers, readily available to patrons.

Another of our young ladies commenced “Tab Tots,” a weekly playgroup for inner city mums and their young children. This met a real need in the inner city and the group has around 30 regulars, most of whom are from outside the church community. Exactly who are the people in your neighbourhood? How it is distinctive? Is it changing and if so, how? One of the ways you can get some answers to these questions is through participation in the National Church Life Survey. NCLS can provide your leadership with a personalised Community Social Profile for your area, based on national census information, to help your church think about possible bridges you can build.

Talk to your State Union or find out more at www.ncls.org.au, e-mail [email protected], or phone 02 9701 4479.

“Getting to Know You” by Wendy Francis. Wendy is the Qld State Director for the Australian Christian Lobby. She is married to Peter Francis, Senior Pastor of the City Tabernacle Baptist Church in Brisbane. They have 3 married children and 10 grandchildren. Wendy’s background is in management at Griffith University and Qld Baptists. She is a board member of Samaritan’s Purse/BGEA.