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.”