More Postures to Avoid when Working in an Urban Center
5. Readily adopt successful ministry ideas from other contexts.
A common mistake is to adopt an external strategy, ministry or solution with only minor, superficial changes—or none at all. It is tempting to fully adopt it because the approach had a level of success elsewhere. Although it might function in the short-term, over time it will prove to be unsustainable because it developed in an environment with very different factors at play. In some cases, it could even have unintended negatives consequences!
Put more thought into understanding the differences between the context of origin and your context, rather than the impact you hope it to have. That will help you determine what changes to make—or it may reveal that your context is too different and the ideas aren’t worth adopting at all.
For example, campus ministry in the US is often structured around dorm life or a central campus life. Many campuses in cities like Berlin, however, have students commuting from various neighborhoods who spend very little time near a university apart from their classes or assignments. Campus ministries that come into Berlin from the US have to think through these dynamics and reconsider some of their tried-and-true methods. Outreach and discipleship are still target goals but they must be accomplished differently in the context of an urban center.
Adjusting to the urban context of Berlin requires far more than translating materials into German or figuring out what kind of activities Berlin students enjoy. University students in Berlin are often more integrated into the life of the city, so ministry to students means figuring out where, when and how to best interact with them. It means creating entirely new patterns of ministry, finding new ways to meet and build relationships with students and responding to the unique needs they have as urban, not simply campus, residents.
One university ministry founded in the US now rents out space in Berlin that is well-known and easily accessible from most districts—but not necessarily near a campus (quite counter-intuitive for most student outreach). They also are intentional about visiting campuses during the hours that student traffic is the highest, and then plan events at apartments in the evenings or on weekends in various districts where students live. In addition, the focus has shifted away from serving students and building up a ministry at particular universities and toward creating a broader movement of students that is citywide. Even though these may not sound like major shifts in approach, they require a series of small, yet significant changes in thinking and practice.