A year ago the residents of Cambridge Towers in northwest Detroit, a
high-rise community populated by senior adults, struggled to get along. Hate,
jealousy and envy sowed discord in a place where residents had moved in the
hopes of finding authentic community.
Dave Coleman is the leader at Woodland Hills Hope Center in
PHOTOS BY KIMA JUDE
Then Second Chapel Hill Missionary Baptist Church established Bible study
and worship services at Cambridge Towers. With the advent of church right on
its premises, the atmosphere at the high-rise soon transformed, according to
Lester Lewis, multihousing minister for Second Chapel Hill. People began to
realize God wants more from them. Tension eased; relationships reconciled.
A few of the communitys residents started making their way to Second Chapel
Hill, located seven miles away. But at the 250-unit Cambridge Towers itself,
the number of participants in Bible study and worship continues to grow. Its
blossoming way beyond what we ever expected, says Lester, whoalong with his
wife, Charleneleads the congregation.
The impact of this Detroit outreach is not a singular success. In Lebanon,
Ohio, Joe Veal, working under Urban Crest Baptist Church, has established two
multihousing churches and is looking toward another three. Early outreach
efforts among the communities have resulted in 75 professions of faith.
In Bakersfield, California, Chuck Melton, multihousing coordinator for the
California Baptist Convention, has planted 23 Bible studies in 14 sites,
including apartment houses, convalescent homes and retirement centers.
These are but a sample of the congregations springing up in multihousing
communities all over North America as the North American Mission Board (NAMB)
works with local churches, associations and state conventions to re-focus and
refine efforts to cultivate the vast, mostly unharvested, fields of souls found
By the numbers: The multitudes in U.S. multihousing
Private-apartment communities 51,000,000+
Condominium/association communities 29,700,000+
Manufactured-housing communities 14,000,000+
Senior-housing communities 4,600,000+
Public-housing communities 3,000,000+
Puerto Rico has the second largest concentration of public housing
communities in the U.S.
Assisted-living communities are being built faster than demographers can
count them. One of every two new subdivisions in the United States is being
built on the community association model.
The term multihousing refers to both attached homes and those in
close proximity with shared amenities. Sixty percent of the unchurched
population in North Americasome 120 million peoplelives in multihousing
communities. Left unevangelized, that figure could rise, because the numbers of
people in multihousing communities, which include apartments, condominiums,
manufactured housing and public housing, is increasing.
Apartment dwellers have doubled in the past 20 years. One in every 15
Americans lives in manufactured housing. In Canada, 30 percent of residentsmore
than 10 million peoplelive in apartments and other multihousing
According to Chris McNairy, national missionary for multihousing church
planting at NAMB, churches which use ministries in attempts to assimilate
multihousing residents into existing churches reach only about 25 percent of
the people. Bus ministry is one such approach. When a church is planted on
site, however, the success rate jumps to 70 percent, particularly significant
when considering that less than 10 percent of multihousing residents attend
Its not your mothers multihousingPart of the increase
in multihousing residents can be attributed to the marketing successes of the
multihousing industry. Once considered the home of the poor, multihousing
communities dot the entire North American socio-economic landscape, just as in
Ohio, where church planter Joe Veal is targeting both low-income communities
and those that feature $3 million homes.
Members at Woodland Hills Hope Center.
While public housing may remain the residence of last resort, many people
choose multifamily dwellings for a variety of reasons, including convenience,
lifestyle and community.
To sell its product, the multihousing industry has latched onto the idea of
community, even to the point of changing how we talk about multihousing. For
example, trailer parks are now called manufactured housing communities.
Steps to church planting in multihousing communities
Pray, pray, pray. Pray for the lost in multihousing communities.
Minister to owners and managers, and secure their permission.
Preserve indigenous characteristics of community at all stages of new church
Conduct community surveys getting to know community leaders, schools serving
the area, law enforcement and public officials.
Secure local church sponsorship and Southern Baptist associational
Enlist pastoral/ministry leadership.
Determine the church-planting approach.
Inform state convention/NAMB office of multihousing church planting about
Follow through on strategic evangelistic events.
Set in place ongoing communication, accountability and evaluation processes
with ownership and management, sponsoring churches and denominational
Yet, as Cambridge Towers residents in Detroit discovered, it takes more than
close quarters and shared amenities to make a community. Our premise is theres
no community without church, Chris McNairy says. Although residents may work
the same kinds of jobs or have the same education level, they lack a vital
piece of community when they dont have a church of their own. Churches that are
planted on siteutilizing open space, a clubhouse, empty apartment or
cafeteriaprovide more than just a common meeting ground. They knit a community
together at the soul.
While Chris points to the emergence of a new breed of blended income
multihousing communities, he contends that even the most economically humble
communities have sufficient resources to support a body of believers. Lay and
bi-vocational leaders are key workers. Congregations which meet on site have
little to no overhead costs. On the contrary, upper income communities
represent the greatest challenge of multihousing church planting, Chris
Your friends in multihousing
While logic might suggest that, aside from prayer, building relationships with
residents is vital to a multihousing church plant, networking with owners and
managers is most important.
When Joe Veal tried to follow up on people who had made professions of faith
through early outreach efforts in Ohio, he couldnt find them and learned a hard
fact of multihousing church planting. People tend to move every six months, he
explains. I learned to tie the church to the facility rather than to individual
By building relationships with owners and managers, who hold the keys to the
communities, churches and church planters gain admittance. For example, Joe
found that his professional experience as a golf course architect opened doors
for him, because hed already worked in some of those communities as a
professional rather than as a minister.
In Montgomery, Alabama, initial approval to establish a congregation at
Woodland Hills, a manufactured home community, mushroomed into other
opportunities. After Montgomery Baptist Association installed a mobile chapel
on the grounds, the management deemed the church such an asset that it set
about obtaining permission from owners to copy that model in its network of
manufactured home communitiessome 500 in all.
While consistent pastoral leadership is vital, whether it comes from within
or outside the community, it usually takes a team of on mission Christians to
plant the church. Yet it can be a work-smarter-rather-than-harder endeavor. For
example, Sunday school teachers investing their time in lesson preparation
spend it more wisely by teaching the lesson not just once but several times in
In Bakersfield, Chuck Melton offers his services as a kind of activities
director to gain admittance into a community. He enlists people who will teach
aerobics or English as a second language, for example. We tell them well be
glad to do all this, but well have church, too. Its the kind of give and
take that defines a community, an agreement to live together for the benefit of
For info on planting a multihousing church, contact Chris McNairy at
770-410-6000 ext. 5087 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kima Jude is a writer living in Montgomery,
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