Even though fall is a time when trees begin to lose their leaves and some plants move into their dormant season, it is typically a kick-off season for the church.  Folks are getting back into their routines after summer breaks and vacations.  Churches generally see an increase in congregational engagement and therefore find it a prime season to launch new ministries and programs.  And due to milder weather conditions, there are more outdoor activities and fall festivals which may sometimes include events intended to reach new people.

When we look at what all the fall season has to offer, all I see is opportunity and possibility!  Does your church view the season with the same lens?  How are you using your resources to invest in your neighbors this fall season?  Are you planning new ministries designed specifically to reach your neighbors?  Are you offering ministries that you have traditionally offered every fall?  If so, have you evaluated them for their effectiveness and fruitfulness?  What is the intended outcome for the ministry?  And, is the ministry meeting the intended outcome?

Now that we’ve looked inside the church at its ministries, let’s peer outside your church into its neighborhood. Is your congregation a reflection of the neighborhood’s demographics?  If not, you will likely need to acquaint yourself with your neighbors before you are able to really offer relevant ministries for them.  Start first with running demographic reports.  But, do not rely solely on those reports.  They’re a great starting point, but they are not the end all be all.  You’ll need to also immerse yourself in the neighborhood to really know your neighbors.  This is especially true if the majority of the congregation no longer lives in the direct neighborhood.

Start by dining and shopping in the neighborhood.  Observe how the neighborhood goes about their normal daily activities.  Find out where the neighbors hang out for conversation and a sense of community.  Take walks in the neighborhood.  Be friendly and curious.  Next, start friendly conversations with people.  The purpose of the conversations is not to find out how to get people into the church!  Nor is the purpose to guilt people about coming to church or to talk about the “good ol’ days” when the church was full of people. The purpose is to get to know people, hear their stories, and to understand how the church can be helpful to the neighbors.  Where are there gaps in the community?  What keeps people up at night?  What opportunities are there that an organization needs to step into and address?  What makes the people in the neighborhood tick?  What are their hearts’ desires?  Approach the conversations without judgment, preconceived notions, or ministry ideas that you want the neighbors to fit into.  Instead, approach the conversations (and hopefully new relationships) with fresh eyes and ears.

It’s only when we see our neighbors with fresh eyes that we can begin to imagine ministry in new ways.  In fact, those very neighbors will likely tell you what ministries (although they won’t call them ministries), would be most helpful and effective.  Too often, we launch new ministries based on what we church people “think”  will reach the neighbors without ever checking with (or really “seeing”) the neighbors.

Before ramping up your fall ministries to reach your neighbors this fall, consider seeing your neighbors with fresh eyes.  If your leaders would like additional resources for seeing your neighbors with fresh eyes, consider these:

Book:  Journey Preparation: Surveying Your Church’s Landscape

On-Demand Webinar:  Connecting with Your Community Through Bridge Events

On-Demand Webinar:  Who is Your Neighbor?