Church Vision that Advances through Geographic Saturation
The following post is an excerpt from God Dreams: 12 Vision Templates or Finding and Focusing your Church’s Future.
In part three of the book I walk through the 12 templates starting with a simple definition and providing a personal snapshot from my point of view as a vision consultant. Then, I explore the template biblically, providing historical and contemporary church examples and metaphors for communication. For the complete guide with team assessment questions, I recommend that you buy the book. You can also see all of 12 templates in one visual overview or visit the God Dreams resource site.
Your church’s vision is to bring the gospel to as many people as possible in your surrounding geography. You might state it as, “We will define a geographic area around us and take responsibility to personally communicate and demonstrate the gospel to everyone in that area.”
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I am not sure exactly why I did what I did. No one told me to do it. It wasn’t for anyone else but me. Shortly after I learned how to share my faith as a sophomore in college, I found a floor map of my dorm floor—the third floor of Geary Hall at Penn State’s East Halls. Not a very glamorous place but my home for my first two years of college. I placed the map on those built-in corkboards they often put in college dorms. On mine you could find mountain biking pictures, snowboarding snapshots, and a diagram of my dorm floor with three of the twenty rooms highlighted in bright yellow. The highlighted rooms marked those with believers: my room, a fellow member of Campus Crusade for Christ (now known as Cru) three doors down, and Chris Urban on the corner. The map was a visual tool for my gospel saturation vision. I had one year to share the gospel personally with forty students living in high proximity to me.
In those days I had cut my teeth on evangelism and Bible study. By God’s grace and through strong modeling of a campus ministry, I was passionate about representing Jesus. The map just came naturally. I wanted to pray for my floor. I wanted to strategize relationally. I wanted to see progress. I was vision casting to myself. And several guys came to Christ that year.
The following year I was given responsibility over West Halls by the Campus Crusade leadership. Between 1989 and 1990, my map increased to include more than fourteen hundred students. This time I gathered a small team of guys to blitz West Halls with me. My geographic vision expanded and so did the highlighted rooms on a much larger map as we shared the gospel every week.
Geographic gospel saturation is as special to me as it was most intuitive to me as a younger leader. In fact, if I were to choose a vision to recommend to any group of believers, without knowing their situation, gifts, and passion, I would recommend starting here. That’s why it’s listed first in this chapter.
In Acts 1:8 Jesus promised that through the power of the Holy Spirit, His disciples would be His “witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (NIV). Jesus calls for intentionality in spreading the gospel geographically from their present location (Jerusalem) to nearby areas (Judea, Samaria)—even if ethnically different—and ultimately to anywhere people reside.
This was also the pattern of Jesus’ ministry, according to missionary Steve Addison. In his book What Jesus Started: Joining the Movement, Changing the World, Steve maps the ministry of how Jesus went from village to village, spreading the gospel across Israel. Addison writes: “Matthew records that Jesus’ ministry touched ‘all’ 175 towns and villages of Galilee. To reach them all Jesus could rarely have stayed in one place for more than a few days; he would have been constantly on the move. By the end of his ministry, most of Galilee’s 200,000 people would either have met Jesus or have known someone who had.”1
Metaphors for Communication
The figure above shows the arrows of advancement moving outward in all areas and directions, taking the gospel outward to saturate everywhere possible.
One of the most useful tools available for this template is a map. What does your community look like as you zoom in and out with Google Earth? What is the shape of your congregation’s geographic footprint? (That’s the geographic area defined by the people who attend your church.) To see this footprint, create a Google map pin drop of your membership with this free tool: https://mapalist.com.
In addition to the geographic shape, use demographic information to determine the number of people defined by your footprint. Do you have seventy-five hundred people close by or 750,000? For years missiologists and denominational leaders have used the benchmark of one church per one thousand people as an indication that an area has been “reached” or “saturated.”
Other images that convey geographic gospel saturation are a world map with a cloud moving to overtake it just as the Holy Spirit can travel like the wind and go anywhere. Consider also ink spilling across a desk, a flood or flowing water, a tide coming in, a ground-cover plant (like ivy filling a bordered flower bed), a dandelion puffball or “magic grow capsules” children drop into a bathtub and watch them expand to cover the surface of the water.
Think of the images that come from words like permeate, drench, deluge, and douse. Imagine someone handing an invitation, sharing, singing, proclaiming, speaking, inviting, or telling. Build on phrases like “Go tell it on the mountain!”
John Wesley, the great eighteenth-century preacher and founder of Methodism, was famous for saying, “The world is my parish.” As he explained in his journal, he felt it was his “duty to declare unto all that are willing to hear, the glad tidings of salvation.”
This attitude challenged the current thinking in his time where church leaders were assigned a geographic area (parish) as their world to care for. Instead, Wesley sent one of his circuit-riding preachers to wherever people were present. Again the image of “advance” captures the circuit-riding strategy. As a result, the conversion rate and the spread of Methodism was the fastest-growing faith of that century, becoming for a season the largest denomination in the United States, as well as in other countries.
Many churches identify a geographic area or geographic concentric circle they take responsibility for, including the church I’m part of, Clear Creek Community Church in greater Houston. As I explain more in Appendix A of God Dreams, our gospel saturation vision involves adopting a 500,000-population area we refer to as the “4B” area. The 4Bs run from the interstate beltway to the Gulf of Mexico beach, from Brazoria County to Galveston Bay. We’re advancing the gospel by taking it to the people around us.
Other large-scale examples are McLean Bible Church in metro Washington, DC, and Eagle Brook Church in greater Minneapolis, both of whom are purposely planting campuses all over their respective metroplexes as a way of creating a ring around their cities so hearing the gospel is accessible within an easy commute to all.
Smaller churches have likewise followed an adopt-a-block strategy to take the gospel and the tangible love of Christ to certain blocks they’ve designated near their church facility. Some churches, like the Dream Center of Los Angeles’s Angelus Temple, started with a handful of people and the idea of “instead of reaching the entire city, let’s adopt the two blocks right in front of us.” Today the congregation is nicknamed the “church that never sleeps” because it has adopted more than fifty blocks representing over two thousand homes.
Jeff Vanderstelt wrote a book entitled Saturate encouraging Christ followers and churches to join the vision to see one missional community per 1,000 people in every key population center. Another influential leader for geographic gospel saturation is Dwight Smith, of Saturation Church Planting. He has popularized the language of reaching “every man, woman and child” with the question he poses: What would it look like if the “church” gave every man, woman and child the opportunity to hear and understand the gospel and be reconciled to God through Christ without their coming or going anywhere?
Realizing Your Own Vision
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