By Shannon Youell
A few weeks ago on this blog, I told a story of a pastor stunned to discover that people in the neighbourhood, for which their very large and active church lived, did not know what the building was or what went on there, even though scores of people came and went every week.
Many of our own good and faithful pastors and congregrants recognize the disconnection between what they engage in as community inside their building and the neighbourhood around them. Recognizing and acknowledging this fact is the beginning of leaning in together to discuss, pray, listen and perhaps to lay down some things so that our church communities can re-imagine what it means to be relationally engaged with those around us.
Northmount Baptist Church in Calgary engaged in this conversation a few years ago. They came to realize that God was calling them to rediscover their own neighbours and how they can join them where they are at, while also joining God in what He is already doing.
So they took the risk, assessed their own strengths, weaknesses, limitations and barriers, and plunged in faith into hiring an Outreach Pastor with the mandate to engage with the surrounding neighbourhood.
“At Northmount we are looking for new ways that we can come alongside the community.”
Pastor Gabriel Alalade was hired and he started by first getting to know and understand the people in their neighbourhood. What are their passions? Their dreams? Their hopes for their immediate community and the people who live in it? He connected with new immigrant families, youth and young adults, families with young children and began to engage relationally with them. He began intentionally discipling the youth and young adults towards what it means to live as missional disciples in everyday life.
He and some of the young people from Northmount began hosting a coffeehouse once a week where people of all ages, both within and beyond the church came to be wonderfully served by the team. Northmount has also planned and executed neighbourhood BBQs and Stampede Week Pancake Breakfasts that literally drew hundreds. Pastor Greg Butt said it was kind of like the loaves and fishes story….somehow the food kept feeding the crowds that came! Those have been great opportunities for the people in the neighbourhood to meet the people who gather in the church and rediscover what the building is and the warmth and hearts of those from within it.
A key focus has been on discipleship–the intentionally relationally engaged, living all of life as Christ’s missional disciples, kind of discipleship.
“We long to make disciples and leaders that multiply into the world. Everything we do and everything we say reflects this vision that God has placed on our hearts. “
Gabriel reports that “Things have been moving steadily in terms of some of the discipling initiatives.” He is seeing growth with those engaging in Bible studies, social engagements and prayer.
Among other things, Northmount is currently working on a vlog and blog series shaped as a roundtable discussion for Christians, seekers and agnostics and making better use of a community Facebook page they began to connect neighbours to neighbours.
Re-engaging our neighbourhoods means re-examining each of those areas where we live, where we work, where we play and where we pray, as places where God desires Shalom to exist for the benefit of the dwellers. It is never a short engagement, but a long, committed, love-inspired relationship.
Communities like Northmount need our collective support to continue forging, in faith, into this reconnecting and re-engaging with their neighbourhoods. The investment is long but the return is eternal, as we learn from one another as churches and as followers, missional disciples, of Jesus, our Lord and our Savior, fresh ways to engage our own communities.