By Jennifer Matenaer
For most believers, the phrase “mission field” evokes images of an isolated village in Kenya, an indigenous people group in the Amazon, or an underground church in China. But did you know that most Christians in the United States can reach the mission field in just a few steps from their home? A mission field exists in their own backyard: their neighborhoods.
A recent survey done by Lifeway Research revealed that most evangelicals want to connect with their community. Most evangelicals trust the people in their community (76%), know many of their neighbors by name (67%), and seek out opportunities to talk to them (69%). Although the pandemic has limited interaction with others, evangelicals still care about their neighborhoods.
However, according to a survey completed by Lifeway Research before COVID-19, Protestant churchgoers rarely share the gospel with others. While most churchgoers (73%) pray at least once a month for opportunities to talk to others about Jesus, more than half (55%) had not talked to someone about Jesus in the past six months. Although Christians want to connect with their community, those connections do not usually involve the gospel.69% of evangelicals say they seek out opportunities to talk to their neighbors, but 55% of Protestant churchgoers say they have not shared the gospel with anyone in the past six months, according to Lifeway Research studies. Click To Tweet
A gap seems to exist between talking to your neighbor and sharing your faith with that same neighbor. How can you bridge the gap? Three practical steps will help you reach the mission field in your backyard.
1. Sit on the front porch.
If you fall in line with most evangelicals, you already know the names of many in your community. But do you know much else beyond that? The first step in reaching your next-door mission field involves putting yourself in opportunities to get to know your neighbors better.
Positioning yourself to have conversations with your neighbors begins with sitting on your front porch. When someone drives or walks by, wave and smile. As time goes by, “Good morning, Mandy” could turn into “How are you doing, Mandy?” Have an extra chair available for those who may want to join you.The first step in reaching your next-door mission field involves putting yourself in opportunities to get to know your neighbors better. — Jennifer Matenaer Click To Tweet
Not everyone has the luxury of a front porch. Some live in apartment complexes. Some live where front-porch season lasts only for the summer. And some have neighbors who keep their heads down or live more than five miles away. But you can find other creative methods to connect with others. Walk at a nearby park and greet passersby. Go Christmas caroling in your neighborhood. Bake banana bread and take it to neighboring houses or apartments. Treat the elevator ride to your apartment floor as a chance to meet someone new.
Since most believers statistically want to talk with their neighbors, they can take the natural first step of having a conversation, which may eventually lead to the gospel.
2. Open the front door.
While evangelicals showed a high interest in connecting with their community, non-evangelicals also welcomed the idea. More than half of American adults without evangelical beliefs know their neighbors by name (66%), trust them (57%), and look for opportunities to talk with them (54%).
Since most people really want to make connections in their community, Christians need to go beyond a passing greeting or casual conversation. They must move from the front porch to the front door. Open your front door and invite your neighbor in.
In your invitation, you welcome your neighbor not only into your home but also into your life. Unlock the door. Throw open the shutters. And pull back the curtains. When you share your fireplace and family photos, you reveal yourself and encourage them to do the same.When you share your fireplace and family photos with your neighbor, you reveal yourself and encourage them to do the same. — Jennifer Matenaer Click To Tweet
Believers do not have to open a physical door to welcome others into their lives. Instead, they can bring a slice of their home to their neighbors. Consider taking your neighbor out for dinner or coffee. Go on a walk with them. Or just sit on the front porch with them over glasses of lemonade and a plate of chocolate chip cookies. Ask yourself, “What basic activities do I do regularly?” and invite your neighbor to join.
Since many unbelievers want to know their community, Christians can easily take the conversation deeper—another step closer to the gospel.
3. Gather around the table.
You have invited your neighbor over for dinner. The chili simmers in the crockpot. The cornbread cools on the rack. The doorbell rings. And everyone takes their place at the table. But what next? Should you pull out the family Bible and walk through gospel tracks like the Romans Road or the Bad News, Good News? Maybe. But maybe not.
Some of the best fellowship can occur around a table full of food. But while the host may prepare all the food, they cannot prepare for where the discussion might lead.Believers who know more about their neighbors will be better prepared to reach them with the gospel. — Jennifer Matenaer Click To Tweet
During a gathering, guests may bring up spiritual questions or concerns. But the conversation might not head in that direction. Rather than getting discouraged or interrupting and forcing the conversation, allow it to flow naturally. The first shared meal can lead to more get-togethers. And your visitors will more likely accept another invitation if they sense that you care about them rather than have an agenda in inviting them over.
In the first gathering, make it your goal to really get to know your guests. Ultimately, believers who know more about their neighbors will be better prepared to reach them with the gospel. Lifeway Research executive director Scott McConnell shared seven questions that will help Christians get to know and love their community better. Knowing the answers to the questions can help you understand how your neighbors think and how they view God and the world. When spiritual topics do arise, you can share your faith within the context and culture of your own neighborhood.
You don’t have to pack a suitcase. You don’t have to fly in a plane. You don’t even have to travel to another city. Reaching the mission field for Christ begins with reaching your next-door neighbor.
Jennifer Matenaer is a student at Dallas Theological Seminary. Upon graduation, she and her husband plan to minister as rural church planters. Read more from Jennifer at JenniferMatenaer.com.