How Urban Churches Can Reach Thousands of People Within Walking Distance
Many urban churches are literally surrounded by high rise apartments and condos – to the point that there could be tens of thousands of people just a stone’s throw from your front door. Recently, I was interviewed by two religious leaders of traditional, urban houses of worship in downtown Los Angeles about that very thing. They have magnificent historic church buildings but are in neighborhoods that have shifted dramatically over the last 30 years. But now, it seems to be shifting back. Young people are moving into more than 50 apartment skyscrapers going up around them. The big question the pastors asked was: “How to I get to all those thousands of people in high rise apartments to tell them about my church?” So I asked three people how they would answer that question:
First, Dawn Nicole Baldwin who is our Lead Strategist at Cooke Media Group:
As many urban neighborhoods shift and younger people start being attracted, we often find artists and creative people moving in first. They’re willing to take over large empty spaces and turn them into studios for art, music, and theater. They’re also interested in unusual building design and renting or buying spaces traditional families wouldn’t be as interested in renting. I’ve always been fascinated with how artists are fantastic conduits to reaching people and cultures today. So my suggestion would be to think about outreaches that would attract musicians, artists, writers, or designers. Since they often share their spiritual experiences through their art, when you can reach them, you have the potential to reach a significant part of the city.
Laura Woodworth is our Director of Communication at Cooke Media Group:
It may sound crazy in today’s digital world, but in certain specific situations, direct mail can still be an effective tool. While we often think that the age of direct mail is over, nothing could be further from the truth – particularly for targeted messaging. For instance, one option is to send an oversized postcard delivered to all addresses in targeted buildings, and plan on at least 2 mailings spaced a few weeks apart.
As you start connecting with the apartment residents, I would also encourage you to consider a cell group strategy of meeting in apartment homes as a way to help gather people. These days everyone is looking for community and a place to belong. It could make powerful connections and open hearts with the goal of getting them into the church.
Finally – Jonathan Bock, founder and President of Grace Hill Media, and co-author of our book “The Way Back:”
In our book “The Way Back” we profile a ministry called Apartment Life. They talk apartment owners into giving them a free apartment, in exchange for having a Christian couple become the virtual activity directors, social connectors, and chaplains. The apartment owners could care less about the spiritual part, however, in virtually every place Apartment Life has been, apartment residents love it. Research shows residents stay in the apartment longer, are willing to pay more, and from a purely business perspective, it’s great for the building owner. All because these “Apartment Life” residents are helping people move in, organize pool parties, celebrate birthdays – always showing the love of Jesus to everyone in the building. The bottom line? Go hyper-target every one of these buildings with love and service and you’ll see amazing things happen.
Ultimately, there are many effective ways to reach those apartment and condo dwellers in your neighborhood. Finding the right solution really depends on the needs and goals of your particular organization. Just be clear about what you want them to do in addition to what you want to them to know. So reach out. Try different things. See what works in your community, and then run with it.
The harvest is right outside your window.
Phil Cooke, Ph.D. is a producer and media consultant to churches and ministries across the country. His latest book is “The Way Back: How Christians Blew Their Credibility and How We Get It Back.” Find out more at www.philcooke.com.
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