This kind of work isn’t about apartments: It is about God and the people He loves. The plain truth of the matter, however, is that apartments communities come in many shapes and sizes, and that a significant percentage of the North American population lives there.
A second important fact is that a large percentage of apartment residents are not connected in any way to a local congregation. A third important understanding is that many churches don’t yet realize that apartments exist. Once you begin to see apartment communities and the people who live there, everything changes. You won’t be able to drive by an apartment again without wondering who is caring for the people inside.
From time to time you may hear varying descriptions of the “typical apartment resident.” Our experience has been that, outside of high mobility rates, there really isn’t a “typical” resident. In one of our locations, for example, one apartment community with over 1,000 people has two differing populations: first generation Hispanics and Vietnamese. In this community, Mission Arlington has established two different congregations. One community may be gated, full of people with professional jobs, and another may be a government housing project. All kinds of people live in multihousing settings for all kinds of reasons. It is important to discover who lives in each ministry field one community at a time, then minister accordingly.
Though there are many different settings for apartments — from private apartment communities to mobile home parks to assisted living facilities—it may be helpful to organize ministry approaches into three different types. First, there is the “high income” apartment. Often, these are gated communities full of professional working people. A second type of apartment community is a lower income community. A third type of community is in between the first two, a working class apartments.
Our experience is that missions and ministry can happen in each setting, but the approach to ministry will vary accordingly. Congregations will often develop more slowly in a high income setting, but be strong and consistent when they do develop. Crowds may gather quickly in a low income apartment, but it may take some time for the crowd to become congregation. Working class apartment communities are often the most open to missions and ministry. A congregation here can develop fairly rapidly. Having said this, it is important not to allow any preconceived notions to block what God wants to do in any particular place. Clearly the Spirit of God will move in His own time and in His own way.
Managers are some of the most authentic and caring people you will ever meet. They generally do not own the apartment community, but are responsible for every detail that occurs on their property. Sometimes they work for a management company, and sometimes they work directly for the owner. Managers are often overworked, underpaid, and understaffed. They genuinely love the people in their apartments, and want to do as much for them as possible. A missions ministry in the apartment community needs to be done in coordination with and support of the apartment manager and his or her dream for the property. An effective ministry will assist with the resident retention of a particular property, in that more and more people will want to stay where they feel loved and supported.
Be honest and open about what you would like to do. Realize that many groups come and go in the life of an apartment community. Often, religious groups presume that they have a spiritual authority which entitles them to “act brashly” in Jesus name. An insensitive spirit can set kingdom work back significantly, so be careful.
Work with the management team as if you were on their staff. Find out what ministries will best meet their needs and the needs of their apartment community, then respond appropriately. It is important to work within the managements expectations and limitations. Don’t promise more than you can do, and always keep your promises. Don’t be afraid to ask for a place on property to begin your Bible study and weekly ministries.