Working through a Dallas-based ministry called Apartment Life, they’ll welcome new tenants, make “care visits” to residents experiencing difficult situations and organize regular get-togethers such as barbecues, pool parties and fall festivals.
From the standpoint of the complex owners, they’ll make the apartment community a better place to live and belong — and, if successful, improve the resident retention rate.
“For us, it’s an opportunity to incarnationally share the Gospel with people,” said Jordan Bunch, 26, who earned a master’s degree in domestic missions at Abilene Christian University in Texas. “It gives us a platform for relationships where we can share the good news with people.”In a housing development, a person might drive straight into the garage and never come in contact with a neighbor, he said.
“In an apartment community, you all share a mailbox. You share a parking lot. Your neighbor’s door may be 10 feet from yours,” said Bunch, whose full-time ministry will be supported by the Highland Oaks Church of Christ in Dallas. “You share a pool, a fitness center, a dog park. There’s just all this shared space.
“That shared space and just general proximity to one another creates an opportunity for relationships that might be more natural, more easy to occur,” he added.
Nationwide, apartment dwellers “represent a disproportionately high number of non-churchgoers,” said Kent Smith, a domestic missions expert at Abilene Christian. “Yet comparatively few churches — with a few notable exceptions — focus on apartments.”
In Port Arthur, Texas, about 250 miles east of Austin, about 500 families live in government-subsidized apartments near the Park Central Church of Christ.
But none attended the church.
“When we would walk through the complexes, it was difficult to get folks to acknowledge us or talk to us,” pulpit minister Jeremy Houck said. “This caused us to get creative in the ways that we invited them to come meet us.”
Now, the church hosts an annual “Trunk or Treat” event with free hot dogs, soft drinks and popcorn. Last year, 1,000 children came.
In the summer, the church suspends its Sunday evening services for “acts of community.”
Members organize block parties, grill hamburgers and serve watermelons and homemade ice cream. They offer bottles of water and ice pops to children at the park.
“It has been a slow process,” Houck said. “The longer we are involved, the more we are trusted. The idea is to build trust and see where God leads, but sometimes that is more frustrating than it sounds.”
He added: “There is always a fear that folks are just coming for what we can give them. But we feel that the opportunity to share compassion with our neighbors is worth the danger.”
Future plans include renting an apartment and using it as a place for outreach and community-building — just as the Bunches intend to do in Austin.