Yesterday I attended church at an urban parish that, like many Episcopal parishes, is sustained by members who drive at least a few miles to attend services. By chance I was present for a quietly momentous event: the baptism of a mother and her three daughters from the immediate neighborhood. Looking around the church, which I attend from time to time when I am traveling on business, I noticed that it had become somewhat more reflective of the neighborhood than it was when I first began to visit. Which is to say it was a little less affluent and a little more racially diverse.
One of the things that my business partner, Rebecca Wilson, and I speak about when we consult with parishes or give workshops on how to use the tools of contemporary communications for the purposes of evangelism is the importance of developing a relationships with your immediate neighborhood—of having a sense of who people are, what forces shape their lives, what they hope for, what they are afraid of, where they are at various times of the day, how they spend their leisure time (assuming they have some). In the jargon of our profession, this falls under the heading of knowing your audience. But there is more to it than that, we say.
The mobility of our society notwithstanding, a parish church exists in part to be in relationship with people in a specific geographic area. And, as we begin to understand that the church that says “come and see” is giving way (of necessity) to the church that moves out from behind its walls and says “here we are,” cultivating relationship with your neighbors is more important than ever. So today, let’s have a reality check: To what extent does your congregation resemble your neighborhood? If it does not resemble the neighborhood, does this concern you? If so, what are you doing about it?