Monday, May 12, 2014

"Neighborhood Mapping" by John Fuder: A Review

A sling in David's hand toppled a giant. The jawbone of a donkey in Samson's hand took out a thousand enemies. A laptop can make a grease monkey look like a mechanical engineer. A GPS makes a New York City cab driver look like a genius. The right tool in the right hands can produce amazing results. (11)

I'm a pastor and I need help. How can I reach my community? How can I lead our church to reach our community? If pastors and the churches they lead do not have a biblically based, gospel-centered, evangelistic-heart for those in the community around them, then what are we here for? Why are we wasting our God-given time?

For some time now I have been contemplating new strategies for our church on how we can reach more people with the gospel. Thankfully I came across the wonderful book by Dr. John Fuder, Neighborhood Mapping: How to Make Your Church Invaluable to the Community. The book is a simple to read and yet biblically based with a lot of practical insight. The book, in essence, seeks to give a positive answer to the following question raised by the author:
Take an honest assessment of your church's - as well as the surrounding churches' and ministries' - relevance to the community. If your church closed its doors tomorrow, would your neighbors even notice? If they did notice, would they care? Or would they say, "Good riddance"? (94)
With the declining influence of the church in America, I regrettably assume that for most churches today, the latter answer will be the prevailing one. A lot of churches are barely hanging on and with each death of a member comes another reminder that our days as a congregation are numbered.

So how can we reach our community? The following "formula" proposed by the author is a major component of that:
In the early 1990s pastors Leith Anderson put together a helpful formula for what community analysis looks like. He wrote that diagnoses (D) plus prescription (Rx), along with hard work (HW) and the power of God (PG) results in a changed community. (28)
In many ways the book fleshes out this formula by highlighting biblical truths with exegetical insight and practical strategies. Each chapter includes an exegetical section, followed by application, and finally a personal story from another church or leader. The book is very assessable and should be read by all pastors and churches serious about Kingdom work.

A few brief words. First, I appreciate the general tone of the book. The author is clearly passionate about reaching people with the gospel. He loves the local church and believes in her. The book is short enough to not be intimidating, yet the author offers a lot of great insight for the local pastor like myself. Reading the book humbles us when we realize that we are not doing enough to reach the community.

Secondly, the church needs to learn the following lesson desperately:
For too long the church has worked under the impression that people in need should come into the building to receive help, comfort, and compassion. But that's not what Jesus taught. We are to go out and get them. We don't wait for them to come to us; we go to them. We love them in such a way that we compel them to come to faith. (53)
This is something the church needs to learn desperately. When America had a presumed Christian ethic and the local church was held in high regard, churches could wait for much of the world to come to them. Those days are behind us. We must return to the original call of the church to go out into the world.

Thirdly, I have already mentioned the practical part of the book, but it is worth fleshing it out a little more here. What I needed was helpful application more than theory. Fuder provides just that. A sizable percentage of the book is dedicated to a number of appendixes many of which are questionnaires for churches to use in evaluating and mapping their neighborhood. I was thrilled to see this. Certainly each church will have to modify such resources but it shows the reader what sort of questions are helpful and best.

Related to this, consider the following:
Get to know our community thoroughly. Research the history, patters of migration, as well as demographic makeup - in short, do all you can to familiarize yourself with the community of your calling and residence. When it comes to place, community analysis is best achieved by those who have made the long-term commitment to stay where they have been called. many neighborhood residents have seen churches and ministries come and go, unwilling to invest in their communities. Yet it is important to understand that it takes years to show that we are committed to the welfare of the community.

Discern the felt needs of the community, such as crime, unemployment, homelessness, as well as family size, educational attainment, and housing patters. One suggestion is to ask those you have built relationships with who are already working in the community what the five greatest areas of felt need are.

Ask yourself what things the people of the community, Christian and non-Christian, resent that have been done in the name of Christianity and what they may be more open to. What are the cultural forces at work? How do they perceive Christianity? What has God used in the past to bless the community? (61-62)
Finally, a quick word of critique. Though the book is biblically based and gospel-centered, at times the exegesis is stretched. I will not take the time to offer specific examples here, but even a cursory read, I believe, will make this apparent. I am not suggesting that the biblical principles are off-based or unbiblical only that it at times forced.

Overall, I cannot recommend this book enough. I highlighted and noted a number of strategies I could utilize and the means to get there as I was reading the book. Such books are great resources for pastors and churches and I strongly suggest each of us take advantage of a resource like this and then get to work.
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