The first approach, I believe, is to identify our own strengths. What do we have to offer? Can we minister in Spanish? Do we have resources to help addicts? Where are we located and what are the demographics of the area? Do our strengths match the demographics? Second, anyone ministering in a city must learn to cooperate with other (often non-holiness) Christian ministries. None of us can reach the masses on our own. Third, I believe it all begins with prayer. Most people still believe in prayer and appreciate someone taking the time to pray for them. This is why the Prayer Station and We Care ministry approaches are so important. And finally, large churches which formerly held massive seeker-sensitive services have started focusing more on local, weekly small groups. The reason is that thinking smaller is more effective than thinking bigger when it comes to the spiritual formation of new converts.
Establishing the church in the city requires the biblical concept of the family of faith.
A person does not usually convert without thinking about the community he will leave and the one he will enter. If a person is attracted by the witness of an individual Christian, he wants to see the community of faith that the Christian represents. He wants to see how the faith is really lived out. It’s as if he is asking, “Where is the group of people who believe this message and live by it? What would it be like for me to be in that group?”
Because people need to see the community of faith created by the gospel, evangelism cannot be done only by individuals persuading individuals. The local church must be attractive as a community of faith.
At the very start, we should not plant a pastor, but plant a church. Start with a core group of people who already function as a family of faith, sharing life and ready to adopt.
I am certainly not very knowledgeable about inner-city ministry, but I can well understand that a very important first step must be winning the confidence of the people with whom one is to work. Many of them are affected with a deep distrust, brought about by mistreatment, broken promises, failed policies, and hurtful relationships from the past. Without a specific move of the Holy Spirit, they won’t be very open to the gospel message. Our vows of help, faithfulness, and even friendship, and our assurances of victory through Jesus, will sound to most of them like the same old pledges they’ve heard from the past. Only when we have taken the time to prove ourselves to them will they truly open up to the message we bring. Someone has rightly said, “In order to win people to Christ, you must first win them to yourself.”
“We don’t have a food pantry, clothing closet, or benevolence fund. What we have here are relationships, but inside of those relationships we’ve helped people with food, clothes, and a whole lot more. But for us, it all starts with relationships.”
We’ve developed what we call “The Relationship Speech.” Cities are teeming with needy people, but building real relationships is the only way to provide lasting help. Relationships are like a journey.
“The fact that you’re having this conversation with a complete stranger tells me something about you. It tells me that you don’t have those kinds of relationships in your life; because if you did you’d be talking to them. But you’re not, you’re talking to me. What you need is not ____; what you need are real relationships with people who will love you and walk the road with you. Is that what you’re looking for?” The answer to that question is the first step towards “walking the road together.”
Entering into the personal lives of the people is vitally important. In other words, 1) Do not hold people at arm’s length [do not distance yourself]. Entering into their situations indicates that you do care. 2) Practical ministries are so important. This may sound like I am ready to discuss distributing money to them. Simply distributing money to them can be one of the greatest curses the church can offer. Find out what their REAL needs are. Point them in the direction of securing jobs, affordable housing, food, clothing, etc. 3) Network. In short, you and your church cannot and must not meet all needs for all people. You are obligated to network with other churches, ministries, and agencies which are equipped to meet their specific needs. 4) Provide a church context which extends true love, acceptance, care, and friendship. The people with whom you work are not simply “projects”… but, people.
Integration – Becoming a part of the community in the inner city is a significant component in the effective proclamation of the gospel. One example of this might mean losing your Sunday "go to meeting" clothes and instead donning apparel that deflects suspicion and promotes community cohesiveness. Don't rock the boat by unnecessary pretense.
Incarnation – Becoming Christ to the peoples of urban America is crucial. We must be His hands extended to the oppressed, the poor, and the outcast. Christ felt at home in the presence of sinners and they came to love Him.
Invitation – Becoming ambassadors of Christ to hurting people is why we as Christians exist. Inviting them to share in our life and accepting their invitation to share in their life, their customs, their culture, and their perspective allows genuine relationships to develop. Those relationships are the best hope for their earthly needs and their eternal salvation.