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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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:
- What additional neighborhood is my church engaging for the gospel?
- How welcoming is my church to those needing to know Jesus? What can I do to make that stronger?
- Will I influence others in my church to connect with and engage those around us for the gospel?
- 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,