LeaderLines – from Hillcrest Baptist Church, Austin, Texas  Contact Tom Goodman, Pastor
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“Outside These Walls—Part Two”
Hillcrest Church Office
October 16, 2003

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Here is this week’s LeaderLines. . . .

“Outside These Walls—Part Two”
by Tom Goodman

As a new pastor, I’m still getting to know your names and stories.  At the same time, I want to get to know your neighbors, too.  Together you and I need to figure out how to “connect” the Good News to their lives.  Two weeks ago I asked you to describe the “typical” resident of north Austin—“Austin Al and Alice.”  You responded with over 425 lines of text, all total!  I’m taking a few editions of LeaderLines to summarize over 10 pages of material and offer some “outreach implications.”  You can see all the unedited e-mail responses at www.HillcrestAustin.org/austin.

Last week we looked at “Austin Al and Alice’s” age range, family, and vocation.  Let’s look at some more characteristics—

Viewpoints:  Several of you took a stab at defining Austin Al’s politics.  One person wrote, “The closer to Central Austin Al lives, the more likely he is to have liberal viewpoints and vote Democratic.  The farther north Al is located, the more likely he is to vote Republican and hold conservative views.  Even then, Al will hold conservative views on economic issues, but not on social issues for the most part.”

Lifestyle:  While reading your descriptions of Austin Al and Alice, I was struck by how often you used the words “busy,” “rushed,” and “driven.”  You also had lots of comments about how sports-oriented and health-conscious Al and Alice are.  Golf was a pastime mentioned by many of your e-mails.

I thought this comment was insightful:  “Austin Al is active.  He likes to exercise and works out at least three times a week.  He plays golf, although not well.  He likes to play sports, but he mostly watches his kids' games now.  Austin Al has few close friends.  He would like to have deeper relationships, but there's no time.  He's not even close to his wife.  They rarely see each other without the kids.”

One e-mail highlighted how many singles live in Austin.  The writer said that Single Al “loves the live music scene.  He can't get enough of good guitarists.”  Also, he like to be “out on his friend's boat on Lake Travis.  Nothing more relaxing to Al that doing the Lake.”

Of course, this impacts availability to accept invitations to church events.  One wrote that Al and Alice have a “very, very busy daily schedule with little time for church.”  Another wrote:  “Sundays are opportunities to mow the lawn or get caught up on activities or chores that been neglected during the week.”

Priorities:  You wrote, “Concerned about physical fitness more than spiritual fitness,” “Striving hard to ‘succeed’ as measured by a materialistic society,” “He is self-sufficient, driven for success,” “Values authenticity.”  One person wrote:  “Al likes charity work and enjoys contributing to those in need, as long as he knows that it's going to the right purpose and place,” but due to his debt and job instability “his giving is limited.”

Several pointed out that “family is important” to Al and Alice but you also observed that they are frustrated with the gap between the family ideal and reality.  One wrote:  “Austin Alice . . . never sees her husband (because he's trying to make a good impression so he doesn't lose his job!). . . .  She tries to talk to Al but he usually falls asleep on the couch every night watching Investigative Reports on cable.”

In fact, several of you touched on the isolation that Austin Al and Alice feel.  One said that Al needs some “real guy friends,” another said he “longs for true community” and another said,  “He just wishes that he could find a place where he knew somebody.  Then he wouldn’t feel like a total stranger.”  I liked this observation:  Austin Al and Alice “are transplants from other parts of the country. . . .  Being isolated from family, they cherish good friendships and traditions.”

Implications:  Next week we’ll look at where Austin Al and Alice are spiritually.  But are there any outreach implications from the observations above?  For example, when we make comments in Sunday School or in fellowships, how sensitive are we to the variety of political viewpoints in our area?  Most of the time, our conservative theology means we’ll be conservative in our politics (but not always).  Nevertheless, our church exists to share the gospel, not to advance a political agenda.  You would probably be careful about the subjects you chose to discuss at your office Christmas party, knowing that your co-workers have a variety of views on, say, the health of the Edwards aquifer, or the relevance of the U.N., or—gasp—redistricting.  Let’s show that same sensitivity when chatting at church about topics that can’t be found in the Bible.

You mentioned Austin Al’s passion for sports, particularly golf, and the time he spends with his kids’ sports.  Are there any outreach implications from this?  I recently talked with one of our lay leaders about a church-sponsored golf scramble where Hillcrest members could invite, and interact with, unchurched friends.  Are there ways we can tap into the outreach potential of the Upward basketball program, and are there additional programs we could sponsor that use sports as an entry-point for the gospel?

Beyond our church’s programs, what are you doing personally?  If you’re involved in team sports with your children, are you using those times on the sidelines to build relationships with other parents?  When was the last time you invited an unchurched person to join you in your pastime:  boating . . . cycling . . . golf . . .  Blues on the Green?  Also, when was the last time you joined a program just so you could interact with unchurched people?  I’ll be joining one of Austin’s many scuba clubs so I can mix in circles outside of Hillcrest.  I once knew a Christian woman who took tennis lessons just so she could reach out to a neighbor whose passion was tennis.  When looking for places to play your favorite sport, join the leagues where Al likes to play (and that’s not often the “church leagues”).

Austin Al and Alice are pressed for time.  We need to be mindful of that when scheduling events.  Pay attention to the start-times, the pace, and the length of the events you lead.  When advertising your event, make the benefits of attending clear.

Do we always have to schedule events at the church or will time-conscious people be more likely to come to events if we booked them in places closer to where they live, work, and go to school?  Our youth leaders are already thinking about replacing the Wednesday evening “at-church” program with a variety of small-group meetings on various days across various neighborhoods.  Could we do that with some of our Discipleship Training classes, too?

Can we expect everyone to be involved in everything?  Maybe it’s time to view our church activities more like cafeteria offerings:  one family may choose AWANA and not be involved in RA’s, for example.  Some single adults may choose to attend Sunday night service instead of Sunday morning (if so, should we offer Sunday School classes at night?).  Should we consolidate some of our programs so that time-conscious people aren’t being asked to be in multiple programs that achieve the same end?

You spoke about Al and Alice’s need for friendship.  This is one of Hillcrest’s great strengths, and we need to capitalize on it.  One of the most powerful evangelistic things you can do is invite an unchurched person into a group where people pray and laugh and cry with each other.

More food for thought.  Thanks for introducing me to your neighbors!  And thanks for helping me think about what we can do TOGETHER to reach them!


P.S.  This Sunday my message is called “The On-Purpose Seeker: How to Find God.”  If you’ve been building relationships with an Austin Al or Alice, invite them.  You could forward my “Winning Ways” e-mail that you got yesterday with a personal note encouraging them to come with you to church and go to lunch with you afterward.

Another P.S.  Join us “OUTSIDE THESE WALLS” with Tierce Green, October 26-29.  Be praying now for spiritual renewal during this special 4-day event.  Tierce’s music and messages will target us as BELIEVERS, challenging us to reach “outside these walls.”  I’ll give you more information later, but start praying for renewal now!