Recently I was talking with three others from church, and trying to make a point about connecting with our community - asking, how are we relevant?
I was saying that if we want to be relevant, then there are two sides to the coin: to be relevant we need to understand the daily experience of those outside our church but who are part of our community, and we need to be able to see our church the way they see it.
Relevance means speaking truth into the important issues of peoples lives, and we can't do that without understanding their experience, or without understanding how they perceive us. I argued that, to the extent we fail to wrestle with these two challenges, so we fail in our great commission.
We can gain this knowledge in two ways: we can do research on the nature of our community, and we can get out there and listen to them in the street, in the bars and restaurants, in their homes, and in their workplace.
So then of course I had to go and do some research - I want to be part of the solution, not just point out a problem. Here's my start to hopefully get you thinking. I took the 2011 census results for the suburbs that surround us: The CBD, Gardens, Oranjezicht, Tamboerskloof, and Vredehoek.
What does this tell us? It says that we live in a community that is dominated by well educated, working, young professionals who live as couples / partners, or perhaps as house mates. They're probably a fairly transient community as the majority are renting. Proportionally there are not many children and not many old people.
This means our community is mostly modern and mobile in both culture and lifestyle (these conclusions, of course, need to be backed up with actually talking to people). In terms of general characteristics this can tell us a lot, if we want to be serious about engaging with the community.
To go back to where I started. If we, as StB, want to be relevant to this community, if we as individuals want to best connect with them, then we need to ask ourselves some very specific questions.
To be Jesus to this community we need Jesus' eyes and understanding, we need his compassion. A key part of this is, I suggest, gaining understanding.
One small step at a time, one change to what I do, one person spoken to. Anyone up for the challenge?