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Missional Engagement Part 3: Neighborhood Mapping Book Review

Updated: Aug 19, 2022

In the past few months, I’ve read three books related to being missional: Neighborhood Mapping by John Fuder, The House Church Book by Wolfgang Simpson, and Subterranean by Dan White Jr. I want to share with my readers reviews of these books, linking some common themes and pointing out where these authors differ. The reason is that they each touch on aspects of what a missional church is including locality, joining in where God is already working, listening closely to our communities, and much more. I’ll start with Neighborhood Mapping, and the subsequent posts will be on The House Church Book and then Subterranean.

Summary of Neighborhood Mapping by Fuder

Neighborhood Mapping by Fuder is a brief and easy read, but you’ll find that putting it into practice might be more challenging. The actual book is about a hundred pages, and a large portion of the book is appendices that are actually tools for putting into practice what the book teaches. The goal of the book is to teach the reader how to “exegete a community” (pg. 13). What this means is to, through prayer, find stakeholders/people of peace, conduct interviews/surveys to learn “the underlying history, context, and culture of that place and its people” (pg. 13), and then strategize postures and practices. The driving force behind this research is to understand unmet needs and untapped resources of a defined area “and implement data-driven practical initiatives to transform that community.” (pg. 16) The goal is the be an “insider” to the community. (pg. 48)

I want to keep my summary brief so the reader can more easily remember exactly what the book is about, and thus more easily put it into practice. There are many details and practicals throughout the book, but if you’re anything like me when it comes to putting things into practice, it’s best to get started with the bare minimum amount of information and then build on this over time.

First, it’s important to note that the author grounds his teaching fully in scripture, both the Old Testament and the New Testament in chapter 3. This is the chapter that explains “why” we should do community analysis. There are also tips in this chapter on how to pray for the community, and tips on how to do “prayer walking.”

Chapter 4 explains “who” should do community analysis: “Community analysis is made effective by those whose hearts have been broken with compassion and who desire to share the good news of Christ.” (pg. 47) In learning about the community, we don’t have to reinvent the wheel. We learn from those in the community and see where God is already working, so we can join in on God’s work.

Chapter 5 is about the “where” of community analysis. We ask where God has placed us and our church/ministry and discern the felt needs of the community. Page 71-72 give practical guidance on how to do so. Chapter 6 is about the “when” of community analysis. This chapter focuses on postures that we must have in community analysis. Chapter 7 is about the “how” of community analysis, which basically expands on the steps described in the first two chapters, but focuses on “networking service providers, finding neighborhood insiders, and identifying the needs of the broader community.” (pg. 85)

The appendices include different types of interviews, surveys, best practices, and examples of ethnographies.

A Brief Appraisal/Critique

The premise of the book involves listening closely to one's community in a local way. I feel everyone who wants to be more missional could benefit from reading this book, as it’s concise and helps you understand some basics of being a missional church.

I love how the book is completely centered around taking action to understand one’s community. As I pointed out in my first article on being missional, we need to relearn orthopraxy in the church. We are so often way too focused on orthodoxy and forget to make sure we are practicing what we think we believe in earthed-out ways. Since about half the book is appendices that help you put into practice the mere 100 pages of material, the book is heavy on practice and light on knowledge. As an academic, I love books like these that help me learn how to practice better; books that help me stop gorging on knowledge and humble myself enough to be a practitioner because true knowledge takes place on the ground in relationships. The book definitely contains knowledge but the knowledge is based on the author’s experience and practices over time.

A possible critique of the book is the common use of the word “data-driven.” I’m not sure if this is a real problem as the data is centered around intentionally listening to our communities. However, in the end, it seems our community involvement should be not just data-driven, but relationship-driven. Regardless, actually knowing what is going on, and the histories of our local communities will be a step up from what many churches do even if it is coldly data-driven. We tend to be completely detached from the communities around us in the American context.

Regardless, even though there is language about “data” the book is relationally driven: “Assume a position to understand, not judge the neighborhood. This requires humility, persistence, and the courage to push past your fears. An accepting and inquisitive posture can open doors into another culture.” (pg. 21)

My last critique is that the examples of interviews in the appendices should probably be used as references, but you will probably need to make your own using them as a guide. I sense that using some of these interviews might go too long or be too detailed for a natural conversation with someone in your community. That said there is a variety of different types of surveys, ranging from complex to simple that you could sift through and find what might work best for your context.

Neighborhood Mapping Most Challenging Quote

"Take an honest assessment of your church's--as well as the surrounding churches' and ministries'--relevance to the community. If your church closed its doors tomorrow, would your neighbors even notice? If they did notice, would they care? Or would they say 'Good riddance'?" (pg. 94)

How Am I Going to Put this book into Practice?

I am going to make a plan to exegete my community by:

1. Pray specifically about what God is leading me to do in my community: “Rather than creating more programs and events that move us toward busyness or meeting our own needs, we wait on the Lord to give us a love for the community and its people.” (pg. 35)

2. Have interviews in local businesses using the appendices. Mainly coffee shops seem like a more natural place for something like this to take place.

3. Meet for church in public areas where people can see me and I can learn about people and share God’s word with them more naturally. Being missional is partly about bringing the church into the world, rather than asking individuals in the world to come to church: “We are to go out and get them. We don’t wait for them to come to us; we go to them. We love in such a way that we compel them to come to faith.” (pg. 53)

4. Find people who know the community better, build friendships, and learn from these people.

4. Start keeping a document where I learn more and more about my area, its cultures, and histories, and strategize a plan for engagement from this information

5. Find people who will help keep me accountable to do these things

Is there anything you would do differently? Feel free to engage with my post in the comments below. As I pointed out in my first article: These articles are as much about me figuring things out as they are sharing with others.

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