What is a “Neighborhood Church” Anyway?

Neighborhood Churches have been a core component of City Life Church for several years now. Originally, they were called “expressions,” a term we borrowed from our friends at Soma, which helps communicate Neighborhood Churches as a local expression of the church in a particular area of the city. However, as the city of Austin continues to pour funding into neighborhood initiatives to become a city of bigger neighborhoods, we thought the term Neighborhood Church would make more sense. After all, these are really the church as it exists in the context of the neighborhood.

Neighborhood Churches are collections of City Groups that share a common geography, mercy ministry and love for Jesus in their part of the city. While NCs practice mercy together throughout the year, they gather four times a year on a Sunday in their part of the city to worship in four different ways. We envision some of these Neighborhood Churches eventually becoming church plants and we want to foster that potential through these gatherings. In an effort to provide more structure and rhythm to our Neighborhood Churches we have implemented an annual rhythm for our quarterly Neighborhood Church gatherings. This is what the typical yearly rhythm of Neighborhood Church gatherings looks like:

Q1 – Family Sunday

This is a familiar, familial gathering at a park or home where we share stories of gospel, community and mission. These gatherings provide an opportunity for the neighborhood church to hear from each other and to be encouraged by real stories of God’s grace in our lives and the life of our neighborhood. We share with one another, pray with one another and for our neighborhood and eat together as a family.

Q2 – Serve

This is a dedicated day to serve together. We serve the city in many ways throughout the year, but we want this Sunday to be a dedicated time to remember that service is one way we can worship the Lord together. This can also be a time to break free from the expected rhythms of our normal mercy ministries and think outside the box as we try to love and show mercy to the city.

Q3 – Recreate

We intentionally slow down the pace of organized events and activities as a church during the summer months and encourage a season of rest and recreation. So this Neighborhood Church Sunday is dedicated to just that. It may be a friendly game of kickball or a group trip to the local pool or BBQ joint. The purpose of this time is to enjoy good fellowship and fun as we remind ourselves that rest and recreation are good gifts from God, often best enjoyed together.

Q4 – Liturgical Gathering

Finally in the last quarter of the year our Neighborhood Churches gather locally to have what might be called a ‘traditional Sunday gathering’, a time of liturgical formation through singing, scripture reading, communion and preaching. These services are excellent opportunities for new or inexperienced leaders to step out in new ways leading the church in a local context.

Neighborhood Church may be a new concept to you, but I hope you will view the Sundays we set aside to intentionally focus together as Neighborhood Churches, not as a ‘day off from church’ but as an opportunity to see deeper into who the church really is in the local context and how worshipping together might look different than what we are used to.