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Decoding Our Church's ZIP Code
by Tom Goodman
October 16, 2008

When we send a missionary to live and serve in another land, we expect her to adapt to her new culture in every way that does not compromise the gospel.  It's the same when think about reaching the mission field right around us.

It takes years of observation, training, and practice for a missionary to adapt to her culture.  Instead of insisting they learn her language before they can hear the gospel, she learns theirs.  She accustoms herself to behaviors that meant nothing to her in America but mean everything to the people she's called to:  In certain parts of Africa, for example, she's never receiving gifts with the left hand, and in certain Arab cultures, she'd never offend people by inadvertently exposing the sole of her shoe to them.

Just as God sends missionaries across the sea, God sends you and me across the street.  We don't have to learn a new language, but we do have to adapt to a changing culture without compromising the gospel.

You and I will be held to account for how faithfully we carried out God's mission in our area.  To that end, we need to decode our church's ZIP code.  Who lives in the neighborhoods immediately surrounding our church?  With the internet, it's easy to get your fingers on this data.  Take a look at these links to the ZIP code of our church (78759) and the four immediately surrounding us:

What can we learn from the information in these reports?  Faithfully fulfilling our mission involves four things.  I'm pleased to see many ways we're accomplishing these aims, but God will always nudge us forward to serve him better.
First, to faithfully fulfill our mission we must increase our outreach to first-half adults.  Now, don't get the impression that first-half adults are our only target group!  That's "Either-Or Thinking."  You may remember I did a series on the follies of "Either-Or Thinking" in Winning Ways back in 2005.  (Read the first installment in the series here.)

"Either-Or Thinking" would say, "Well, if he's talking about first-half adults, that must mean he doesn't have second-half adults in mind."  Let's avoid Either-Or Thinking.

Still, first-half adults can't be ignored if Hillcrest is going to be a beachhead for God's kingdom in northwest Austin.  The ZIP codes immediately surrounding the church are chock-full of adults in this age-range.  Forty-two percent of the population in 78759 was born between 1961 and 1981, while 20% was born between 1943 and 1960, and 6% was born in 1942 or earlier.

Second, to faithfully fulfill our mission we must increase our outreach to families.  Again, this does not mean we ignore seniors, empty-nesters (like me), and singles without kids.  "Either-Or Thinking" will get you in terrible trouble.  But since our church facility shares a property line with Anderson High School, we have to pray for ways to reach the families who send their sons and daughters to Anderson and the schools that feed Anderson.  Two thousand students attend, with another 1200 in Murchison Middle School.  Four elementary schools feed Murchison and Anderson: Hill, Summit, Davis, and Doss.  Hill, a block away from us, has 750 students.  Many of their parents pass right by our facility on the way to school.  Nineteen percent of the parents in our ZIP code are single parents, by the way.

Remember these school names in your prayers -- even if you don't live in the neighborhoods immediately surrounding the church, and even if you don't have kids at home.  Ask God to help your church impact the families who send their kids to these schools.

Third, to faithfully fulfill our mission we must improve the quality of our facilities and programming.  In the neighborhoods surrounding our church, 63% are college graduates; the average household income is $87,000; and home values stand at about $350K on average (I wrote about this here).  In light of this, the culture we're called to reach expects a certain level of quality in the programs we offer and in the facilities we invite them into.  Improving our campus isn't "spending money on ourselves."  Instead, it's one way we fulfill the mission God has charged us with.

Fourth, to faithfully fulfill our mission we must welcome neighborhood newcomers.  Did you know that 60 percent of the population in 78759 moved here in the last 5 years?  Fully 70 percent of those in the 78758 area have come since 2003.  And in 78757 it's 53 percent, in 78727 it's 60 percent and in 78731 it's 54 percent. People are much more open to hearing from a church when they're new to an area.  They're looking for friends, they're looking for activities for their kids, and they haven't settled into a Sunday morning routine.  I think that's one reason our Connection Campaign has been so successful these last two years.  We have to keep looking for ways to welcome newcomers to the church's neighborhood.

As I said at the start, I'm pleased to see how well we're doing in these four areas.  But I pray that God will set within us a passion to do even better!


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