Breaking into Suburbia

It is a question that I have often wrestled with- although not often enough. It is the question of how as Christians we break into suburbia.

Our church worships in a quiet suburban area. For many people it is the ideal place to live. Good housing, few obvious social problems, respectable church-going people, good schools, nice local shops, easy commuting distance to the city centre etc. Any attempts to engage the locals on Christian matters are likely to be met with the response, ‘we belong to church x, y or z.’ It is an attempt to ward off those who might pry or who might be too enthusiastic about their religion. People are happy to tick their church box but are suspicious of those Christians who talk the language of salvation. To use that painful expression of RC Sproul they believe that good respectable people that they are they will obtain ‘justification by death.’ I see them Sunday by Sunday. As I travel to church they go to the golf club, or the newspaper shop, or go jogging or out for a walk with the kids.

Nonetheless the issues are there when occasionally one glimpses behind the net curtain. There are the broken marriages, the lonely people, the debt, the dysfunctional families, the underage drinking, the pornographic addiction, the stress of working to fuel the perfect lifestyle. Not least the emptiness that no amount of money can fill.

The great question is how we break into that suburban world. A world rife with individualism that shuts its double-glazed doors to the outsider. A world which we as middle-class Christians have bought into at least in part. Perhaps we have bought into so much that we can no longer recognise the spiritual vacuum at the heart of the materially comfortable lifestyle.

So how do we break into the suburban world? A world in the grip of the spiritual poverty that the rich young man knew. We cannot I have discovered engage suburbia through our programmes- suburbia is too self-sufficient for that. We cannot meet them on their own ground because everyone’s home is his castle. Individuals in an individualistic world are suspicious of our community. We cannot even ask them to church because we are a small church and the consumer mentality rules church as it does everything else. The consumer looks and asks, what do they have to offer my family?

I have many more questions than answers. And would welcome hearing from anyone who is ministering in such a context.  Most ‘successful’ attempts to minister in this context, as far as I can see, simply reaffirm the suburban mindset rather than seeking to transform it through the gospel.

I’m glad to see some folk on the web who are tackling this issue- even if it relates to the American context. If this issue concerns you click the link below and consider the resources. At the minute it is stronger on analysis than answers. But it is a first step on a long journey.

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