The Texas Annual Conference is now implementing a policy of making “mission field appointments (document is a pdf).” Here’s a key part of the document:
In a series of conversations around the question “who is our
client,” the cabinet (center directors and superintendents) and bishop finally experienced one of those “a-ha” moments. We realized that our client was neither the pastor nor the congregation, but rather the mission field.
God was leading us to deploy pastors, not to make people
who were already living a life of faith happy, but rather to
reach persons living in our neighborhoods, communities and
cities that were not a part of a community of faith. God was
inviting us to appoint pastors who would lead congregations to reach out to people who had not yet heard the gospel, many of whom are young, of different racial/ethnic backgrounds, poor and/or underserved. Understanding the mission field as our primary client was a dramatic shift in our approach.
No one on the cabinet, including the bishop, knew how to make
appointments with the mission field as the primary client. The old mental frameworks in our heads and the expectations of pastors and congregations were major obstacles to change. We knew we needed to learn. Our reading, writing and conversation with outside people and groups intensified….
The mission field is understood as the overall context for ministry. It may be the setting within which a local church ministers. The mission field may be a population in and around
the local church’s community which is not being reached. It may be also be a population that does not have a United Methodist congregation in the vicinity. This perception challenges pastors and congregations to be outward focused, not inward. It encourages risktaking on behalf of mission.
Today an email from MissionInsite was forwarded to me (and to other church leaders around the district) from the district office. The Annual Conference signed up with this company that provides demographic research for churches last year. Today’s message told of their latest offerings. I’d gotten their basic demographic info for our area last year. One of the most potentially useful tools maps areas for lifestyle types (using Mosaic categories). Even more practically, they offered some ideas on how to use the Mosaic data.
So I ran a map of our county. No big surprises. Our area is considered primarily “Rugged Rural Style” and “Lower Income Essentials,” meaning most of the people in the county are counted in one of these two psychographic groups.
Curious how that compared with the rest of the Conference, I expanded the map view. Here’s a what a picture of most of the Conference (East Texas) looks like:
Perhaps you notice there is a lot of light blue areas. Those are where the “Rugged Rural Style” dominates. The yellow/gold color is also pretty common. That’s the “Hardy Rural Families.” From the description given by MissionInsite, these folks sound like a step up the economic ladder from the “Rugged Rural Style.” It’s in areas like this that “Cowboy Churches” seem to be thriving. “Simple Churches worshiping a mighty God in a simple way,” is the slogan of one of these churches in our area.
If we are doing Mission Field appointments within these fields, we face some challenges. First, it seems that a fair percentage of people now headed into ordained ministry are coming from other demographic groups. Many are coming out of the churches in larger cities and suburbia. Second, the normal route to ordination includes a pathway through academia the enculturates its inhabitants away from blue collar, rural living. Doing things rural style is real cross-cultural mission for many college educated, seminary educated pastors.
Are psychographics useful in shaping church ministry, leadership, and mission? Are they being taken into account in our identification of the mission field? Are pastors profiled along these lines?
This is fascinating stuff (from a UM in Pgh).
So what you’re saying is, taking a St. Louis suburbanite from an upper-middle-class family and sticking him in rural church in Hopkins county, TX might not have been a good fit for that mission field?
I’m saying that it is cross cultural ministry, yet not usually recognized as such. If we learn to recognize these differences as CULTURAL differences, it would help. We tend to think that the only cultural differences that matter are those of language and race. “You’re white? Speak English? Well, here you go!” Now it might be that all this psychographic stuff is just marketing of marketing – a way for more people to make money off of declining churches looking for a ray of hope. From my own experience, I have found awareness of culture to be helpful in ministry. But, as you note, I’ve also experienced that it’s mostly ignored.
Your questions are great ones. My experience being appointed to a rural church was one of subtle but profound culture shifting. I’d grown up in suburban and college-town environments and never attended a church with fewer than 200 in worship on a regular basis.
Pastoring a 30-in-worship country church created lots of opportunities for cultural misunderstanding.