The Latino population is the fastest growing minority in America with 1 in 9 people speaking Spanish at home. The federal government has estimated that this ratio could be as high as 1 in 4 by 2010!
The North American Mission Board has estimated that 95% of the residents living in an apartment complex are unchurched. I'm sure this is correct because you can go to a complex on Sunday morning and you can't find a place to park. And they aren't walking to church!
Therefore our church growth strategy must include a method for reaching immigrants living in apartment complexes!
Whirlwind Mission, Inc. helps congregations,
This document will help you get started in community outreach or increase your effectiveness.
I have two guiding principles for what I do:
1. Everything is about relationships.
With managers, residents, cops, city government. No short cut to this. It takes TIME.
2. Ministry is based on a scratch and itch mentality. Find out where people are itching and scratch there in the name of Jesus--then you will have an effective ministry.
I operate a Needs Based Ministry. So should you.
Language, education, and loneliness are three of the biggest needs.
What is the demographic color of the neighborhood?
Immigrants tend to be in construction, landscaping and service industry. Look for pickup trucks, vans with ladders. Most will also have bumper stickers in Spanish. Also most Latinos also have satellite TV--to get Spanish programs. So look for lots of those little dish receivers.
I look for signs (literally) that the property is having trouble: "Free Rent" or "$1 moves you in" sort of things.
When I first go to a property I do a walk around.
If there are tenants I ask them how they like the place, how long they've lived there, what the racial mix is, are there a lot of kids, what they think about the management (has the current manager been there awhile), and is there a community room?
I also look for maintenance men. They let me know what the general attitude of the management company is, if they have a lot of graffiti problems, and if there are lots of kids.
Another important question relates to the number of vacancies in the complex. The more vacancies, the more leverage you have to work there.
Every apartment complex "shops" its competitors. They know exactly how much money each is getting for a 1, 2, or 3 bedroom apartment. Every complex has about the same square foot floor plan with similar amenities. But the complex where you have ministry also offers an after-school program, and English classes (even only once a week), as well as community events. Can you see how your ministry can be the selling point for a prospective resident?
The more you look at the apartment business from the secular point of view, the more churches working on site makes good sense to corporate America. Services by moral people for free!
My priority locations have:
1. Lots of children.
2. High percentage of immigrants.
3. A community room
And most importantly:
4. A positive manager.
I never talk to a manager unless I have something to offer.
I have already communicated with a church in the area (Within 5 miles or 10 minutes drive time). They have confirmed with me that they are interested in community outreach and are ready to start immediately.
Then I go talk to the manager. I usually dress up--short of a tie. I hand them my business card, a brochure, a prayer card with my picture on it, some small gift and immediately tell them that I'm not there to sell them anything.
I start off with something like this, "Hi! My name is Tim Cummins. I've got great news for you--and I'm not trying to sell you anything. I've heard that you have alot of kids on your property." (Wait for a response)
"I have work in 21 other complexes around the city. Most of them have a problem keeping the kids from wrecking the place." (Wait for a response)
"I work with a number of different churches in the area. We offer after-school programs, English as a Second Language classes, computer classes and community events. Even though we offer services to the community we are about the spiritual needs of your residents. It doesn't matter if they speak English perfectly, if they destroy the apartment and skip paying the rent." (Wait for a response)
"Where do you go to church?" (Note: I ask presupposing they do)
This is a very important question - it lets you know very quickly whether you will able to work there. If the manager is pro-church you have a much higher chance of getting on campus. It's also important for you to be clear with the manager about your ultimate goal - sharing Christ! Don't try to sneak in the "back door" be upfront with them from the beginning.
If it sounds like they think working with churches is a good idea then say, "I represent /whatever church/ and they'd like to have a party and feed your residents. The church will pay for everything."
(For more info on how to hold an Outreach Event, check out the document "Menu for Success")
"We'd like to put up a few fliers around the mailboxes and the laundry rooms. Does this sound like a good idea?" (Wait for a response)
"GREAT! I'll be back soon to give you more details about the party."
Then you go into longer term plans.
"One of the things we do is offer after school programs. Could we use the community room once a week to help the kids with their homework?" (Wait for a response)
Of course you should NOT even talk about that unless the church has mentioned an interest in helping with that type of ministry.
I always tell to my partners to "Keep the bar low."
Don't promise what you can't provide.
I've been working with apartment managers for over seven years and I've never had them tell me I wasn't doing enough.
BUT I have had partners promise things they didn't deliver. I ALWAYS hear about that. So keep the bar low as to what you and your church can do.
If you can only do one event a year--that's ok. If you can do things around Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving or Halloween even better.
I've found that the shoebox Christmas gifts are the best. Just wrap the gift and label it with the age and sex of the child. Normally an apartment complex of 150 will have about 20 pre-schoolers, 30 elementary children, 25 in middle school and 20 in high school. Kids in high school normally don't participate.
For Easter what I've found works best is to hide about 200 eggs. Let the pre-school through second grade go first. Give each child a bag, and tell them, "Gather as many eggs as you can and then bring them back to me." The children dump all the eggs back into your big bag. You then get the older kids to hide all the eggs again. I normally do this at least five times! Then we hide them for the older kids a couple of times.
I don't put anything in the eggs during all this hiding & searching. Now comes the fun part. I have what I call "The Great Candy Throw." I have all the kids spread out and then I throw candy to them. Make sure you make a line that they can't cross too close to you. You can keep track of about how much candy each kid gets. The really little ones you can basically throw right in their bags. The point of these games is to have fun. But also to make the fun last. Throw individual pieces! Make the kids work for it!
For Easter I also like to use sidewalk chalk and draw scenes from the story. I've also had the group split up into two--one says, "He's not dead," the other "He is risen, " as we walk around the complex.
For Thanksgiving I have my partner churches collect bags of food to hand out. Check out the document "Bags of love" to what to put in the bags. I usually involve the managers and ask them for the ten neediest families. If I have regular work at that complex, I focus on the families we work with the most.
I ask the managers so they feel in the loop and also realize how much we're benefiting the community.
So much of community ministry is marketing. It's important to take pictures of the events you do. I buy the large poster frames (24x36) at Walmart for $10.00. I usually make two displays: one for the complex and one for the host church. These pictures stay in the office of the complex until I bring them a new one to put up! This keeps your ministry in mind.
As a missionary involved in community development, I am constantly generating more volunteers. How do I do that? By keeping the bar low. I regularly host Outreach Events in the complexes where I work.
(Again, for more info on how to hold an Outreach Event, check out the document "Menu for Success")
This gives people an initial taste of on site ministry. Most people can handle two hours on a weekend where they're just handling out food and tracts. Usually about one out of twenty people will get involved in ongoing ministry.
I use a military analogy to illustrate this. There are two kinds of army: Regular Army & Special Forces. Regular Army has thousands of people all gathered together behind an impenetrable fortress with tons of supplies. Special Forces are made up of fire teams of eight people behind enemy lines. All of my work is a Special Forces operation. But that doesn't mean it's brain surgery! Our basic task is loving people in the name of Jesus!
Too many people get caught up in creating a curriculum for the after-school or ESL programs and forget what the main goal of the ministry is. Don't make that mistake!
My main criterion for a partner is Just Show Up! Get on site and you'll do fine.
I'm always in a learning mode. I try and be flexible.