Re-Thinking Local Culture

Editor’s Note: The following excerpt is from Steve Timmis and Tim Chester’s book Everyday Church, available in print through IVP in the UK and Crossway in the US.

Recognising our missionary context means we can no longer assume that the church understands the culture. We need to rediscover or relearn the culture. We need to get to know our neighbourhood, its people, their stories, values, worldview and culture. We need to ask the kind of questions that missionaries ask when they enter a new culture, questions such as:


• Where are the places and activities in which you can meet people (‘the missional spaces’)?

• Where do people experience community?

• Are there existing social networks with which we can engage, or do we need to find ways of creating community within a neighbourhood?

• Where should you be to have missional opportunities?


• What are the patterns and timescales of your neighbourhood (‘the missional rhythms’)?

• When are the times when you can connect with people (‘the missional moments’)?

• How do people organise their time?

• What cultural experiences and celebrations do people value? How might these be used as bridges to the gospel?

• When should you be available to have missional opportunities?


• What are people’s fears, hopes and hurts?

• What ‘gospel’ stories are told in the neighbourhood? What gives people identity (creation)? How do they account for wrong in the world (fall)? What is their solution (redemption)? What are their hopes (consummation)?

• What are the barrier beliefs or assumptions that cause people to dismiss the gospel?

• What sins will the gospel first confront and heal?

• In what ways are people self-righteous?

• What is the good news for people in this neighbourhood?

• What will church look like for people in this neighbourhood?

Communities are not always defined by geography. They may also be defined by ethnicity, leisure interest, time of life and so on. In an urban context most people are part of several overlapping communities.

Ask people what it’s like to live in your area. If you are an insider, ask outsiders what they find weird about your community. If you are an outsider, ask insiders how they view their community.

You might ask these kinds of questions on first encountering a new community or neighbourhood. But they should also be questions we ask all the time so that missional reflection becomes a normal part of our lives. We cannot work on our understanding of our neighbourhood and then sign it off. These questions should be part of ongoing discussions.

Organise activities such as team meetings, one-to-one mentoring, talk preparation and readings in public spaces such as cafés, pubs and parks. This will help you to think in a missional way as you plan and prepare. If you prepare Bible teaching in a coffee shop, for example, you are more likely to find yourself developing your teaching as a dialogue with the culture. But if you simply prepare in your study surrounded by your books, then you will naturally speak into this context, addressing the concerns of professional exegetes. If you hold a leaders’ meeting in a café then you are more likely to think in missional terms as you discuss the business of the church.

In many cases you will be able to identify where community happens in your neighbourhood and therefore become part of that community. The church often seems to have an obsession with doing everything itself. If you want to reach hikers, you start a church hiking group. But why not join an existing hiking group? Somebody else does all the hard work of organising the group. There may, though, be situations in which you discover there is no real community going on. Then you can become the people who bring others together.