Three Catalytic Shifts in Metro Atlanta that May Shape our Mission

Three catalytic shifts have occurred in Atlanta’s recent history that should inform our strategy for reaching the metro Atlanta area with the gospel of Jesus Christ. These shifts notably occur in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries.


  1. Neighborhood Planning Units—Creating a Grid for Influence and Communication


The first shift was precipitated by the election of the first African American Mayor of Atlanta, Maynard Jackson, in the 1970’s. Mayor Jackson sought to involve more of the Atlanta constituency in the influence of city government instead of the select few who retained the influence and leadership at city hall. He divided the 242 neighborhoods of the city of Atlanta into twenty-five (25) neighborhood planning units. These units opened city planning and decision-making to the grassroots level of the neighborhoods of Atlanta.


  1. The 1996 Olympics—Introducing and Welcoming the World to Atlanta


Atlanta won the bid for the 1996 Olympic games against almost insurmountable odds. After winning the bid, the city and region began to see how unprepared the city was for hosting the world for the Olympics. On the shoulders of the visionaries that helped win the bid for the Olympics, the city began a massive move to create sustained systems and structure to successfully welcome the world. The city of Atlanta became a welcoming place for the international community through the Olympics. The international community continues to find Atlanta welcoming to this day with a bulging population of diverse backgrounds living together in Metro Atlanta.


  1. The Atlanta BeltLine—Connecting the Neighborhoods and People of Atlanta


In 1999, Ryan Gravel submitted his Master’s Thesis to Georgia Tech calling for a renewal of the twenty-two mile stretch of mostly abandoned rail lines around the city of Atlanta into a walkable, more livable, and connective trail that would transform Atlanta into a more pedestrian friendly group of neighborhoods. The BeltLine project finally gained traction after Metro Atlanta region failed to meet standards for the clean air act of the United States. In the middle of the first decade of the twenty-first century, visionary leaders began to see the value in a strategy such as Gravel’s. Now, Atlanta experiences seismic people movements and redevelopment around Atlanta’s growing BeltLine. This BeltLine project creates more connectivity and vibrancy between neighborhoods than has been historically noted in Atlanta.


How do these shifts or catalytic decisions, projects, or events help us to develop a gospel movement in Metro Atlanta? I’ll offer three ways.


  1. Develop a Bite-sized Strategy for Metro Atlanta.


Utilize a gridded approach, such as Maynard Jackson’s neighborhood planning units to segment all of Metro Atlanta into “bite-sized” pieces that may be more locally understood and more strategically engaged, neighborhood by neighborhood for the gospel. I argue for a neighborhood-based strategy that leads us to leverage our resources for the sake of every heartbeat in every neighborhood of Metro Atlanta. Every established, gospel-centered church will adopt at least one other neighborhood that most closely represents their passions and giftedness to invest their efforts of engagement for the gospel. That’s bite-sized strategic planning.


  1. Build upon Metro Atlanta’s diversity by fostering an even greater welcoming environment.


The churches of Metro Atlanta must substantially extend themselves into the surrounding neighborhoods of Metro Atlanta to develop their welcoming graciousness. This welcoming graciousness was modeled by Metro Atlanta during the Olympics.


While developing a bite-sized strategy that utilizes the church’s present strengths, each church needs to stretch themselves into a growing awareness and willingness to welcome those of other cultures in biblically faithful ways. We will not reach Metro Atlanta without becoming more hospitable for the gospel of Christ. Let’s learn of other cultures. Become students of diversity. Hold loosely to our own culture and find ways to understand other cultures and how the gospel of Jesus supersedes all of our cultures.


  1. Take advantage of the drive for connection and the growing population shifts for the gospel.


With the momentum developed around the connective nature of the BeltLine Project in Atlanta, the churches of Atlanta must work to “ride the wave” of connection while we have this rapid people movement in the city and region. People are moving in and others are seeing drastic changes to their communities due to the BeltLine Project. People express more openness to spiritual change when everything else is in flux around them. Let’s leverage this propensity to change through connecting on the BeltLine and in the surrounding communities for the cause of the gospel of Christ.


In conclusion, let’s ask ourselves the following questions:

  1. What additional neighborhood is my church engaging for the gospel?
  2. How welcoming is my church to those needing to know Jesus? What can I do to make that stronger?
  3. Will I influence others in my church to connect with and engage those around us for the gospel?
  4. Who is my one person that I will seek to know, pray for, and reach with the life-changing gospel of Jesus?


Seeking to engage every heartbeat in every neighborhood for the gospel of Christ,


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My Response to the New Zealand Massacre

The news from New Zealand on Friday, March 15, caused my heart to grieve. I grieve that someone would intentionally target others for destructive violence. I grieve that we, as humanity, so easily embrace stereotypical perspectives about others. I grieve that we do not take the time to know and understand those that are different than we are. 


I’m a Christian and condemn any form of human thinking that claims supremacy for their own culture or race. I cannot avoid the grief that envelopes my heart when those gathered in two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, were violently attacked by a self-avowed white supremacist. Let’s be clear: Not one of us is supreme and no race is supreme. As a white-supremacist, the attacker appeared to be seeking to protect his white supremacy and European isolationism through violence against those that were different than he.


The question arises for me: What must I do to reveal a welcoming heart and display the love of Christ to others? The metro Atlanta area has welcomed many from different nationalities, ethnicities, religions, and philosophies. How do I, as a believer in Jesus and a holder of biblical truth, relate to others different than I? I build relationships. I welcome others into my world. I reach out the hand of hospitality. I become a friend to those around me. I reveal the graciousness of my God and King, Jesus, in my conversations and activities. I must follow what God instructed the Israelites to do in Leviticus 19 and “…treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God” (Lev 19:33—34, ESV). We are to be welcoming as believers in Jesus.


How do we reveal the graciousness of our God and King in our conversations and activities with those around us? I want to suggest five ways: Be hospitable; become curious; seek to understand; bless others; and, remain faithful to truth. 


Be Hospitable

Hospitality does not have to be difficult. Being hospitable begins with a smile and a simple acknowledgement. Let’s see the people around us, in the markets and in the streets. Let us become genuinely concerned for our neighbors and show them the gracious hospitality that we want to receive. The writer of Hebrews states: “Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares” (Heb 13:1—2, ESV).  


Become Curious

Learn about those that are different than we are. We naturally gather around those who are like us. Let’s break that natural tendency and get to know those around us. Let’s listen for ways we can link in relationship with our neighbors. We will connect better with our neighbors when we become curious about how we can get to know them better. Be a student of culture. Learn from others.


Seek to Understand

Listen to those around us. Our neighbors may be living in fear, may have something to celebrate, or may have a need that we can discover. In the days since the senseless attack in New Zealand, motivated by hate, those that hold to the Muslim faith or who are from other nations around us, may be living in fear. They may fear that we may feel the same hatred toward them just because of their background. Let’s seek to understand that potential and seek to understand their concerns, their lifestyles, and their hopes and dreams. Only by understanding may we build the trust necessary to have positive faith conversations that lead to gracious gospel witnesses.


Bless Others

Let’s take a posture of blessing rather than a posture of superiority. The call to Abraham, in Genesis, was to be a blessing to all nations (Gen 12:1—2). We cannot influence those we are not willing to bless. Blessing others does not mean that we agree with them or that we adopt their culture. Blessing others allows them the freedom to be in our circle of relationships. We engage them in conversation, meals, events, and friendship. This posture toward blessing remains the most beneficial position for those that want to influence others positively.


Remain Faithful to Biblical Truth

Being hospitable, curious, understanding, and a blessing does not necessitate us forsaking our understanding of biblical truth. With a heart softened with the graciousness and love of God and the mind enveloped with biblical truth, we forge out into different cultures and build friendships that will ultimately be a blessing. I am convinced that people do not react so harshly to us holding to biblical truth, but to us claiming to hold truth while spewing hateful glances and spiteful comments. 


Remember that what is inside the heart will spew forth eventually. Become so intimately related to Jesus that we can be touchable to those around us without sacrificing the truths we hold dear. I believe that others should come in contact with followers of Jesus and discover that it did not hurt. So, go and be hospitable, curious, understanding, and faithful to biblical truth as you become a blessing to all our neighbors.

Let’s Be Great Neighbors, 


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