I had a coaching call recently with a few people who have Missional Communities that are in the inner city. The “leaders” are predominantly white and they are going into neighborhood that are predominantly not (this isn’t to say, of course, that only minorities live in the inner city). I hear questions about this pretty frequently, so here are some quick tips if you’re starting a MC in an inner city minority neighborhood (if you happen to be white).
1. Don’t send in a million white people.
Seriously. Just because you have a lot of people that are willing to be part of this missional community doesn’t mean they all should stream in together. In my experience, it is FOUR at the most (+ a little extra room for kids). For a lot of reasons (most of them deserved), minorities have a difficult time trusting middle-class, white people. Don’t put up barriers that you can avoid. Having a brigade of white people come in is interpreted with dis-trust, unease and comes across as you being arrogant (savior on the white horse).
2. Find the Person of Peace.
Who is the person in the community who lives there, looks like the community, who the community trusts that can serve as the gatekeeper to the community? They are, at the very least, the co-leader of the community. The leader needs to look like the community in the same way that Lydia, in Acts 16, looks like the community as the first church in Europe is established.
3. Don’t come up with something new.
When you’re trying to find the Person of Peace, don’t try to come up with a new program or plan for the community. Chances are, there are already a few community groups focused on this neighborhood. Join up with them. Remember: You’re looking for ONE important relationship. That’s it. But also remember that finding the right person can take some time. In my experience, expect 6-12 months just to find that one right relationship.
4. Don’t plan what your MC will look like.
You don’t know what the MC is going to even do/look like until you find the person of peace. So don’t try to come up with the magic bullet plan of what’s going to “save” this community. You don’t know what it is. The Person of Peace and those close to them, with your coaching, will be the ones who shape the form and rhythm of the MC.
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5. Be consistent and go in for the long haul.
Communities in poor, urban areas do not change over night. Urban sociologists say it usually takes two generations for lasting change to remain. That’s a LONG TIME. That doesn’t mean that your MC needs to plan on taking a 40 year journey, but it does need you need to be consistent, have realistic expectations and be prepared to commit for a good length of time.
There are lots of other little tips we could give, but I think these are the non-negotiables. The Holy Spirit can make up for some mistakes you make along the way, but in the people I coach and lead, I advise them not to deviate from any of these principles.