This Spring/Summer, the Montgomery Baptist Association (MBA) has been working to kick off an association-wide MultiHousing Ministry. The idea behind MultiHousing Ministry (MHM) is that local churches would identify apartment complexes and trailer parks where individuals and families dwell together in close proximity and they would engage those areas in prayer, service, acts of love and kindness, and Christian ministry. The goal of this ministry is for people to experience God’s love through contact with a local church and for missional communities to emerge there. This ministry is connected with similar efforts in cities all over Alabama (see map) and is sponsored by the MBA, the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions (ALSBOM), and the North American Mission Board (NAMB). I am working as the Missional Strategist for the MBA on this project.
Our first goal has been to identify what is already happening. Several churches in our association have already been working in multi housing communities in different ways. We are seeing to bring all of this together through building an identifiable team of churches, ministries, and leaders who are already engaged and who know the lay of the land in multi housing work in Montgomery. From that base, we hope to engage other churches who have yet to begin MultiHousing Ministry by showing them how it works and how God can use them, just as He is using others. Our prayer is to see this become a movement throughout the River Region with dozens of churches engaging their communities with love, service, and the gospel.
Almost 15 years ago, Montgomery Baptists developed “Project Hope,” led by Neal Hughes, where we engaged in ministry in communities all over the city. I was a part of that and for years, we initiated and partnered in ministry in Trenholm Court. God worked in powerful ways through this ministry. Montgomery MultiHousing Ministry builds on that legacy and moves the impetus for the work to the ministry of the local church.
Dr. Eric Boykin, missional strategist for the Tuscaloosa County Baptist Association is directing this work throughout the state and he has developed a basic strategy for getting started.
"Approximately 57% of the US lives in a multi-housing community. These aren’t just numbers. These are PEOPLE. These are precious children Jesus loves, single mom’s trying to make ends meet, student seeking a new way, and young families forging a new path. PEOPLE. We use an acronym to help is remember this point. The PEOPLE Plan is an indigenous model for starting multi-housing ministries in an affordable, simple, sustainable, and reproducible way.
The PEOPLE PLAN
Pray with Fervency
Engage the Culture
Open the Word
Prepare Key Leaders
Launch Sustainable Ministries
Exit with Care
The model begins with prayer. We use a process our friend Neal Hughes calls a “Jericho Prayer Walk.” After praying in the community for several weeks, it’s time to engage the community. This can be as simple as a block party. The possibilities are endless. Sharing the Word of God is a must. It’s not enough to simply connect. Like our friend Sammy Gilbreath says, “It’s only the Good News if they hear it in time.” Keep the message simple and clear. Very early on key leaders begin to emerge. These “persons of peace” are crucial to a sustainable ministry in the community. We invest a great deal of time with these leaders, and use a tool called Life on Mission to train them. Then it’s time to start a ministry.
Note: only after leaders have emerged and vision has been cast do we start ministries. Now that you have, start a kids club or an adult Bible study. The final stage is to exit with care. We never fully exit. Because of the nature of these communities, we will need to be nearby. IMB uses a term called “shadow pastoring.” The indigenous leader begins to take the lead, and we help them from the shadows. That’s it."
The key is to NOT rush in and just start ministry right away. Pray. Get to know people. Take time. Pray. Build a team. Talk about this with others. Pray. Meet neighbors. Talk to management. Find out what their needs are. Pray. Work with your church. Pray. Find ways to serve others. Care about what residents care about. Pray. Get to know people. Pray. Do you see a pattern here? God will work and show you what to do. Then, He will open doors and ministry avenues will emerge. Partnerships will develop. Resources will come your way. The most important thing is to be willing and to develop a broken heart for people that God can work through.
Recently, the Alabama MultiHousing Ministry was featured in a great article in The Alabama Baptist that explains well what is happening throughout the state. We hope to see this ministry grow in Montgomery into a movement. The key to this ministry is NOT to try and get people to come back to your church, necessarily. The key is to bring love and gospel ministry to them where they are, not try to get them to come to you. We must go to them and engage in sacrificial love on their turf, serving and being the hands and feet of Jesus to them.
Immigrant and Mixtec Ministry
Montgomery is home to dozens and dozens of ethnic and language groups, many who live in MultiHousing communities. Through the MBA’s Conversational English (CE) program that meets at First Baptist Church, we engage almost 300 people from over 50 nations each week. Recently, CE has begun taking ESL training TO apartment complexes in our city and has been doing on-site work. This is something that a local church could pick up on and could hold ESL classes for immigrants in apartment complexes. Have you thought about doing international missions in Montgomery? Through MultiHousing Ministry and ESL training, now you can! It is already happening.
The MBA has also been engaged in ministry to the Mixtec people group from Southern Mexico in the River Region for the past 8 years. We have formed the Mixtec Task Force and we are mobilizing churches to engage with this people group where they live – most notably, in multi housing communities. Through ministries like Every Tribe, Community of Hope, and The Nehemiah Project, churches have a ready-made venue to engage with this unreached people group that has come right to our city. More information about the MBA’s Mixtec Ministry can be found here.
Being a Good Neighbor Through Tutoring and Hospitality
Churches have the ability to engage our community through love and good deeds and with the hope that is in the gospel that can only be found in Christ. Many of our churches have started tutoring programs in partnership with local schools that have positioned them to engage with children and parents in some of the neediest areas of our community. Through some of our ministries like the MBA’s Forest Park Ministry Center and Samaritan Inn, our churches have discovered ways to minister God’s love to those in our community who are in desperate need. We want to see these opportunities grow and be tools for our churches to better engage their communities and facilitate more multi housing ministry.
John Wible, a strategist/researcher for CDI, recently put together some ideas for MultiHousing Ministry in Montgomery pulling from several resources. I’ll finish this post with making these initial ideas available. If you would like more information on MultiHousing ministry please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Our goal is to see a network of churches engaged in MultiHousing Ministry across the River Region so that missional communities will be planted and more and more churches will be invited to connect with nearby communities so the gospel will go forward and people will experience God’s love.
The following are suggested as best practices for your church, small group, Sunday school class, or men’s or women’s ministry or group in establishing an MHM.
Dr. Boykin suggests three types of ministries:
“Intentional” – a local church purposefully goes into the community to work,
“Incarnate” – A person or couple moves into the community
“Indigenous” – A”missional community” is started on-site with leaders from within the community.
The end game is what Dr. Boykin calls “Exit with Care.” In the end, the goal is to establish a self-sustaining ministry within the community provided by members of the community that replenish themselves. The outside church can then move elsewhere. Obviously, this is a long-term project. See below.
Pray without Ceasing. Pray at every stage of the process; before, during and after. Do not neglect to pray before every time you enter the community. Even if your prayer time runs long, you may find it more efficient than your intended work. “The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.” James 5:16(b.) If you neglect to continually pray, your ministry is in danger of becoming stale.
Play Together. Dr. Boykin’s plan suggests the next step is to sponsor play-events within the community such as
Service events, and
Dr. Boykin’s ministry offers a ministry tool kit known as Life on Mission.
Perceive the Need. “Without a vision the people die,” proclaimed the wisest man in the world, Solomon in Proverbs 29:18. May I suggest that in this case, the dying people are not those to whom this is addressed, but those whom they will serve, the MHM residents? The church must first see the need. An “old preacher” is oft-quoted as saying, “you’ve got to get a man lost before you can get him saved.” May I submit that also applies not only to the people to whom this is addressed but also to those whom they will serve? The church must take Jesus at His word when He said “the fields are white unto harvest, but the laborers are few.” Luke 10:2.
Put forth a Champion. One reads in 1 Kings 17 and following that King Saul’s army was demoralized and broken until the stepping forth of the shepherd, David. David killed Goliath and became an instant champion. Behind David, the Israelites would “march into Hell.” Why, because he was their champion. No ministry of the church will exist in a high state of performance for long without a guiding-light, a person who is the very “face” of the ministry, the one who is the champion. Without such a person, the ministry will soon dissolve in the old saw, “Let George do it.”
Persuade the Church. “And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.” Acts 2:1. The Holy Spirit literally fell on them and they did unbelievable things. Criticality demands that the whole church possess some “buy in” to the ministry. While most members will not be called to work in the MHM on a regular basis, some will agree to perform specific, limited tasks such as carpentry or landscaping. Others will recognize a call to pray for the ministry. Everyone should be made aware of the ministry and welcome any residents who may visit your church. A church should not invite people that it really doesn’t want. That is a disservice to both the visitor and the church members.
Plan, Plan, Plan. Luke 14:28 admonishes, “For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it?” An old axiom from the world of disaster response says, “To fail to plan is to plan to fail.” Is that not what our Lord just said in Luke? A great football coach lived by the motto, “Get a plan; work your plan; plan for the unexpected.” In this vein, your plan should be flexible and scalable. That is to say, it must be able to bend and be able to increase or decrease in scope.
Perform the Research. Numbers 13:1-2(a) is instructive. “Then the Lord spoke to Moses saying, ‘Send out for yourself men so that they may spy out the land . . .’”
Determine what multi-family complexes are in your area. What kind of facility are they: apartment, mobile home park, condominium, gated community, or something else?
Who owns the facilities? Are they local or out of town? Who are the resident managers? Do you think they will work with you under the right conditions?
Who are the residents?
How many people live there? What are the demographics? Are there many children? What is their nationality or ethnicity? Are they English speakers or do they speak another heart language?
What are their cultural mores? Are they typically a matriarchal or patriarchal society? What is their work ethic? What is their employment status generally? What hours do they keep? What are good and bad contact times?
What is their attitude toward outsiders working with their children? Are they protective of their women? What place do men hold in this community? Are they the “gate-keepers” to the families or are they absentees?
Knowing the answers to these questions is critical to the success of you MHM. Failing to know them will lead to embarrassment or worse.
What other churches, church-related groups, or NGOs are already working in a particular facility? If this is a facility about which you feel strongly, can you work with the existing church? Do they want your help? If not, you might consider another facility. This is not a matter of “staking out territory,” it’s about efficient use of Kingdom resources and curtailing pride.
When you have identified the facility, the people, the management, and any other workers going before you, then you can begin to consider the best platform for your MHM.
Pick out Goals. Jesus said, “. . . ‘With people this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.’” Matthew 19:26. What are your goals for this ministry? Ethereal goals look great on paper and in the air. They constitute a good start; but identifiable, quantifiable, and practical goals work “on the ground.” Are your goals reasonable? Are they Christ-centered? Will they benefit the residents and the management or will they only benefit your church? (Recruiting parishioners is no longer a viable goal.) Is what you are planning that which is needed by the people and management or is it merely what you think is needed?
Pay. Quoting Deuteronomy 25:4, Paul tells Timothy, “The laborer is worthy of his wages.” 1 Tim. 5:18. While it can be argued that “if the Lord wants this done, He will pay for it,” prudence dictates that there really “is no free lunch.” A good ministry must be paid for some way.
Plans are needful and great, but the ministry must ask itself, “Who’s going to pay for this?” Asking that question leads one to the ineffable conclusion that one must establish a budget and a funding source. Is this ministry financed out general church revenues or separate offerings? Are there individuals that would consider being “angels” or special donors? Perhaps they could be prayer partners as well. If so, they should be kept “in the loop” by a newsletter. This has the advantage of involving more people directly in the ministry.
Proffer Services to the Management. Of our Lord, Matthew reports, “Jesus was going throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness among the people.” Matthew 4:23. Jesus began His ministry by meeting the people where they were and by doing for them what they needed done.
While you must be totally candid and honest with the management, you should approach them with but one question, “What can we do for you?” Be prepared to work with the management for even an extended period of time until you have built up trust. Experience has shown that this approach will buy a lot of good will. The good will and trust of the management can make or break your ministry. It may take a long time earn their good will; conversely, good will can be easily and quickly lost.
Persist. In Matthew 18, Jesus commends the widow who persisted in her efforts to obtain justice even from an “unrighteous judge.” Likewise, you must be persistent and consistent. Sporadic work is basically a waste of everybody’s time. The good will you have built up over time unfortunately has a “short shelf-life.”
Plant the Flag. Immediately after crossing the Jordan, Joshua had the people set up a perimeter around Gilgal. There he marked this base with twelve stones taken from the Jordan. Joshua 4:19-20. Your next objective will be to set up a base camp within the facility. You may have to rent it or you may be able to work with management, based on your past work, to barter services to keep the base. While you may ultimately work from a common area such as the community room, your “home” is the base you have established. Just a Joshua could not hide his army, neither should you try. Let the people know you are there and demonstrate the love of Christ to them in everything you do. The Apostle John advises, “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:35. If one loves like a Christian, people will notice.
Proceed Slowly. Our Lord came here with the plan to plant His church here. Matthew 4 details His calling of the Twelve. He began slowly and built his ministry from the ground up. The MHM should be built that way. Plan to stay for the long haul. If one does that, one will of necessity move slowly and by small steps. We all know how much easier it is to grow something than to be forced into retreat. Usually retreat only staves off the inevitable exit. As the Spirit moves, follow His leading.
Participation. Once the base is firmly established and the management is on board, the ministry can move out to the full participation of the residents. First, do what the residents do. If the men play soccer, go to the matches and bring water. If they are bored, offer a block party. Once they know you, the MHM can offer some activities to residents that will both built friendships and supply necessary projects they need. These include ESL classes to adults and children, tutoring children and youth in school work, Adult Reading and Writing, practical assistance to residents with repairs to dwellings and vehicles, and a host of other original activities. The idea is to truly develop friendships. From these friendships, fellowship groups can spring. Training in these ministries is available from the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions.
Pair. Ecclesiastes 4:12 wisely states, “A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart.” Pair your ministry with others engaged in the same work. Even the “Lone Ranger” had at least one partner. Commit to coordinate your efforts as far as time, talent and resources are concerned.
Perhaps. Perhaps, from the friendships, the MHM can begin in-home group meetings. These should start cautiously, learning as you go. Eventually, friendships lead to sharing. Sharing leads to a quest for knowledge, and Bible teaching can be introduced. A great method to introduce Bible teachings is to follow the method known as Chronological Bible Story Telling. From the simple Bible stories, questions are asked. Be prepared to allow the Spirit to guide the discussion and the answers. From Chronological Bible Story Telling, the MHM can progress to using Bible Story telling in “preaching.” I put “preaching” in quotes because it is by no means the same type of preaching as would be done in our church, but it is preaching nevertheless. It is the same type of preaching used by the First Century Apostles as they developed ministries in diverse cities in Asia Minor and Greece. A Long term goal here would be to lead residents to become true believers and Bible sharers. Could one of your friends care so much as to want to take up the ministry? Would he become a shepherd for a fledgling flock? If so, the MHM has just planted a church!
Who will your workers be? As we stated above, Our Lord started His ministry with but twelve men, twelve ordinary men. None were particularly gifted, however, He spent three years training them. After that time, they “turned the world upside down.” The successful ministry will not be built on a few gifted people but rather on a number of giving people. Ministers must be prepared to give of themselves and sacrifice their own goals and plans to those of the Spirit.
Once volunteer ministers are identified, the MHM must train them. Perhaps the most common mistake is assigning willing volunteers to a job in the ministry without proper, or in some cases, any training. They won’t last long. Neither will the ministry. There are plenty of training resources available. Utilize them. Any worker not willing to submit to proper training will not be willing to persist in the ministry either.