America’s suburban communities have always had an image problem. In 1962 Malvina Reynolds wrote “Little Boxes,” a song satirizing the carbon-copy houses filled with people seeming to live carbon-copy lives.

“Little boxes on the hillside, Little boxes made of ticky tacky, Little boxes on the hillside, Little boxes all the same … And they all have pretty children, And the children go to school, And the children go to summer camp, And then to the university, Where they are put in boxes, And they come out all the same.”

“When I see my community, I see rooftops. And where there are rooftops, there are people. And where there are people, there are opportunities for ministry.”

The perception of suburbs has changed little since 1962. Chris Gensheer knows that suburbs don’t have the same mystique as urban centers, but he loves them anyway. And since nearly 53 percent of the U.S. population lives in suburbs, Gensheer believes these communities must be viewed as prime ministry opportunities, not second-rate assignments.

Little Boxes, Grim Realities

Gensheer is the pastor of Christ Church Mansfield, a church plant in Mansfield, Texas. A suburb in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, Mansfield has experienced explosive population growth over the past 30 years, with no signs of slowing.

Gensheer’s neighborhood looks like a quintessential suburb. Houses are tightly packed in a development that stretches for miles in every direction. A satellite view from Google Maps shows thin veins of road separating the clusters of little boxes. The neighborhood is bordered by a farm on one side and a country club on another.

But in Mansfield, the best and the worst of a community sit side by side. Top-rated schools and a country club rub shoulders with organized crime. Just six months before the Gensheers moved to the neighborhood, the FBI drove an armored truck through the front of a nearby house to bust an international drug ring.

Yet ministry opportunities abound in the suburbs for those, like Gensheer, who have eyes to see them. Gensheer does not see little boxes; he sees opportunities for gospel transformation.

“When I see my community, I see rooftops. And where there are rooftops, there are people,” he said. “And where there are people, there are opportunities for ministry.”

As the Gensheers have pursued their neighbors, they have heard stories of brokenness — workaholic fathers, lonely wives, crumbling marriages, and isolation so deep that front lawns feel more like moats. One neighbor told Gensheer’s wife, Maggie, “I have lived here for 10 years, and you are the first people to initiate with me.”

Love Your Place

In a sea of anonymity, Christ Church Mansfield is a lighthouse that offers people a safe place to be known. Gensheer said the church focuses on the historic nature of the Christian faith, a holistic approach to ministry, bringing mercy to the hurting, and radical hospitality. By connecting people to something bigger and more transcendent than their own lives, the Gospel brings what Gensheer calls “intrusive mercy” to break down the loneliness of suburban life.

Suburbs can feel hollow and generic, but it isn’t the buildings that matter — it’s the people.

“We don’t have a harvest problem, we have a laborer problem,” Gensheer said. “The most effective ministry you can give yourself to is just loving the people and places around you and not wishing they were someone else and something else.”

We thank On the Go Moving & Storage – Seattle Movers for sponsoring this post, they have helped many people who lost their houses in the past move to the shelters provided by our church.

3 Responses to Ministry in the Suburbs

  1. Pingback: Selected News Stories from Around the World* — Tuesday, Jan. 16 | The BibleMesh Blog

  2. Bruce Golden says:

    Think Chris’s heart message is developing connectedness within your local neighborhood and community. And brokedness occurs in urban and suburban and rural. The challenges of living in the world are everywhere. Sermon this Sunday at my church was a pop-up (breaking a verse by verse study of 1 John) that challenge us to meet our neighbors and connect. Pastor lives close to me in an apartment and has met just one of his neighbors … and feels chastised that he has not connected by meeting his other neighbors. He helped at a local community lunch of needy program and desired to meet and know his lunch guests … and connect more than just serving green beans. Kudos to Chris and his congregation for reaching out!!!

  3. Sarah Clark says:

    My unique neighborhood is neither urban nor suburban–nor rural–but it leans toward the suburban. When I drive through true suburban neighborhoods, I don’t see homes, but rather fortresses with a thin veneer. It seems that the only opportunity in is when the garage door rises for a few fleeting moments. But then the tightly shut up vehicle quickly backs out and speeds away. I always wonder what sort of brokenness is hiding behind that facade of “having it all together.” So I admire Chris and his comrades across the country for seeking to break into those thousands of fortresses with the Gospel. It’s not glamorous, but really, what Gospel/Kingdom work is? May God bless your work, Chris, and produce much Kingdom fruit in this DFW suburb.