One of the key factors that cripples ministry within socially disadvantaged areas, is an ingrained failure to understand how social networks operate outside the middle classes. It's a failure I often unfortunately replicate in my own precious relationships. Tim Chester describes the "blind-spot" of middle class social networks this way:
The Gospel often travels along relational lines. A Christian tells a friend about Jesus or invites a relative to an evangelistic event. Middle-class individuals typically have wide social networks that transcend geography. Working-class communities , by contrast, are still largely defined by neighbourhood. Friendship evangelism is great, but it does not enable the gospel to travel beyond our social networks, unless there are intentional attempts to build friendships with people who are not “like us.” Many people live in networks which take precedence over their address, and many churches have grown because of this. But the reality for many people living in social housing or in cheaper housing is that their address is very likely to define their daily life
(quoted from “Unreached”, p11).
Many middle class folk maintain broad relationship networks across a big city: Business networks, University networks, Church & Conference networks are often all very broad. Yet once we move beyond the so called “middle class”, social networks are typically more local than metropolitan in character. Outside the middle class, social networks are far more closely tied to one’s neighbourhood and daily life, rather than professional interests and aquaintences.
If we are to ever see church ministry move beyond the middle class in Sydney, we’ll need to embed ourselves in different kinds of networks to those we might be used to. Here are a few tips to get you think about what this might look like:
1. Live locally – at least as much as you can, including shopping, schooling and socialising – Without this you will not be considered part of the social network you are trying to witness to. Period. Often these neighbourhood networks are maintained by incidental meetings in local public places… almost certain not to happen if you just go to your favorite deli 20min drive away.
2. Be available – if you are seen to be often investing time in relationship networks far afield, you may come across to others as aloof, too busy, and “a tourist” to those living in the neighbourhood. Neighbourhood social networks express themselves daily, rather than monthly/quarterly.
3. Be flexible – those living in predominantly “middle class networks” often manage the size and complexity of their networks through Calendars, Conferences, Meetings, Programs etc.
Those who are used to “middle class type” networks, often get frustrated that others won’t keep diaries and appointments. But this is to misunderstand how many social networks outside the so called “middle class” operate. For those outside typical middle class networks, relationships are often managed within the daily/weekly rhythm of life: not in the abstract world of personal organisers. Appointments are easily canceled, postponed and turned up to late. This is not always because people don’t care: they don’t have to balance a city-wide network of appointments, they live together, so why would they need to plan everything a whole week out?
Next post here - MORALITY & MISSION: ministry beyond the "middle"
Find Tim Chester’s book that I’m quoting/reflecting on here: