But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?-- Luke 10:25-29
The lawyer speaking to Jesus must have gotten straight A’s in Sunday school. He knew his Bible verses, pulling the best ones out at the moment they were needed. From Deuteronomy 6:5, he quotes the famous “Shema” verse about the duty of God’s children to love their heavenly Father, and from Leviticus 19:18, God’s command to not seek revenge but instead love the neighbor. “But who,” he asks Jesus, “IS my neighbor?”
We ask the same question in a different spirit. Where the lawyer was trying to get Jesus to define the term so he could look for loopholes, we seek to find out more about the neighbors who surround us. We know Jesus wants us to love all the people in our community, and that there is no boundary separating those who are neighbors and those who are not. When we ask “Who is my neighbor?” as a church, we are asking as servants. We want to know the makeup and the breakdown of our community so we can continue doing a better job reaching out with our mission: “Sharing the love of Jesus, glorifying God, and extending His kingdom.”
If you were looking for the right place to plant a garden, you would look for the land with the richest soil. There are many ways to reach out to our community, many services we could provide, many ways we could advertise, many neighborhoods in our area where we could establish a presence. But where to begin? Where is the richest soil to grow new ministries to reach new people, to share God’s love in the best way possible right here in the Wesley Chapel area? Here is where it helps to know what is happening in our community. Who ARE our neighbors? Where do our strengths and the things we have to offer coincide with the needs and longings of those around us? What aspects of our ministry do we need to strengthen in order to better serve those most likely to come through our doors?
Just like a business wants an accurate picture of the community where they do business, we can also benefit greatly by looking at our neighborhoods by the numbers. Demographics will show us the socio-economic trends, as well as behavioral, life-style, psychological and spiritual tendencies we are likely to find. The Wesley Chapel area has been growing for some time now – what new opportunities does that give us? Where is it growing the most and what are these people like who are coming into our area?
This month, we’ve invited Pastor Jefferson Cox to join us for an evening of discovery. He brings with him knowledge and expertise in the powerful demographics engine called Mission Insite. Our Florida-Bahamas Synod makes Mission Insite available to us through special mission funding. I have used it often to create basic reports on areas around our church. Pastor Cox has much deeper knowledge of how this program works, and can show us with great detail what has been happening and can illuminate the future trends which will impact our ministry.
We realized that we needed more in-depth information as we began strategizing for our Hispanic ministry. School statistics showed us that 20% of our community has a Hispanic background. But what does that mean? Are they of Mexican, Caribbean, or South American descent? There are cultural differences in the prayer and faith traditions of these groups. The makeup of the community will make a difference in the way we celebrate holidays or the kinds of spiritual practices we would establish in our Hispanic outreach. That’s when we knew we needed Pastor Cox’s help to see what we are dealing with.
The detailed look at our growing area which Pastor Cox will bring to us this month can benefit all of our ministries. From deciding where to advertise to looking at choices of music, events to offer, or ways to enhance our childrens’ ministry, the information available through Mission Insite can apply to just about anything we do. One especially interesting feature of Mission Insite is their set of “Mosaic Groups.” They have applied sociological and generational research to identify key aspects of 19 different categories of Americans, from “Golden Year Guardians” to “Middle Class Melting Pot.” Segments of the population can represent “Flourishing Families,” or “Blue Sky Boomers,” “Suburban Style” or “Singles and Starters.” Think of how important recognizing certain segments of the population was in the recent presidential election. It is also important for us in knowing “Who is our neighhor,” and how to reach out to them.So I’d like to invite you to join us on Friday, February 17 for our Mission Insite worshop with Pastor Jefferson Cox. Come for the Hispanic focused segment from 4-6pm or the General community workshop from 7-9pm, or both. Either way, you are welcome to join us for dinner in between. I’m sure it will be fascinating for anyone who has seen the amazing growth and change we have been through in the last few years. Bring your thoughts and questions, ideas and insights. There will be opportunity to learn and share as we discover our community in depth and think about ways to apply that knowledge to better love God and to better serve our neighbors.