Five ways to engage: the suburbs

By Jason Hayes

In recent years, increased attention has been given to the city centers of our world. This is not only true in terms of population growth, but also in regards to cultural and economic development. We know of the diversity that now exists in most major cities and the opportunities that exist to make significant kingdom impact in these places. With that said, we must combat the temptation to lessen the value of ministry in small towns and suburbs. Many of these places have rich histories. Others are known for the industry that employs many of their residents. Others are hubs for brilliant artists and musicians. Some are even famous for their high school football team. No matter what their DNA may be, each of these communities have people that desperately need the love of Jesus and healthy churches that can disciple them in their faith.

As a pastor and church planter in a suburb, I’ve seen first-hand some of the unique opportunities that exist within those who reside around me. Just as an international missionary would contextualize his or her ministry to their culture, we must also be able to prayerfully and wisely reach those in our communities. If you are in the suburbs, here are a few ways to engage people that you may have not considered.

1. Campus involvement
It’s no secret that many of our largest college campuses are just on the outskirts of major cities. In fact, some of these campuses have practically created a suburb of their own. You’ll also find that many suburbs are the home to community colleges and technical institutes. Don’t be a stranger to these places or to the many students who attend there. There are few years as formative as early adulthood. Seize the opportunity to pour love and truth into the next generation.

2. Public education
Many people choose the suburbs in light of what may be perceived as better educational opportunities for their children. Of course, we should maximize our chance to serve all educators whether in public or private schools. But, in our experience, we have been able to gain incredible relational equity with administrators, teachers and parents by simply serving our public schools. Sadly, those in our public schools have been surprised by our desire to love on those involved with the school. Staff lunches, appreciation gifts, assistance with the school grounds and financial contribution to important school initiatives have been greatly received.

3. Leisure and recreation
We also know that some stay out of cities due to an increased desire for open expanses, community parks, and even lakes and rivers. People don’t want to just look at these things. They want to play in these things. The community I live in is seemingly defined by the recreational activities that are available to our neighbors. There are running clubs at every park, boaters at every marina and produce markets near every farm. We want people to come to our church property for worship and other gatherings. But, for the large majority of our ministry, we are going where people already are spending their time. Encourage your church to be intentional in forming relationship in those areas and serve people where they may least be expecting it.

4. Youth sports
There’s something about the suburbs that seemingly drives participation in youth sports. Admittedly, this craze seems at times to be an enemy of people’s involvement in the local church. But, it doesn’t have to be that way. Many of the families connected to these leagues may not be connected to a church or the things of our faith. If you are parent, consider putting your child in these leagues rather than a church-based program. Get to know the players and their parents. As a church, you can even volunteer to help with the concessions or field maintenance. You’ll be amazed by the relational opportunities that arise from these simple acts.

5. Military support
Similar to college campuses, the presence of military bases has single-handedly developed certain suburbs around our country. If you are fortunate enough to be in one of these communities, be sure to explore ways you can serve these people. Far beyond our patriotic support, we recognize that many spiritual and emotional needs exist within the military. There are spouses and children that may need care while a loved one is serving abroad. There are men and women who may be battling anxiety or fear. And some others simply need a temporary church home while they are stationed in your community. Serve them well!

This list is certainly not comprehensive. Be sure to add your own insight and experiences into the comment section. Let’s learn from each other.

Published July 27, 2016

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Jason Hayes

Jason Hayes and his wife, Carrie, have three sons. Jason is the planter and lead pastor of Shoreline Church in Knoxville, Tennessee. He's the author of Blemished and Follow Me (LifeWay) and the co-author of Lost and Found (B&H).