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Cultivating Missionary Skills | The How of Mapping Part Two

Ministry requires more than knowing the names and locations of streets and highways in your city. Observations need to be made in multiple dimensions. Ideally, your map would have at least three layers: geographic (physical layout of the city), social (where people live work, shop, and play, how they behave and why), and spiritual (where/what people worship, revere, and fear).


The first step in developing a map is to plot physical locations in and around a city. In the 1960s, American urban planner Kevin A. Lynch conducted an extensive study of how urban dwellers navigate their environments and outlined what he identified as the five “elements” of the city. These were the most basic building blocks of a person’s understanding of the urban environment and have been used to great effect by missionaries and local church planters to help them understand the cities in which they find themselves. Last week in Part 1 we looked at—

Paths, nodes,

Today we continue with Part Two as we learn about—

districts, edges, & landmarks.


Areas with “perceived internal sameness.” Districts are medium-to-large sections of the city, which are recognizable as having some common identifying character: neighborhoods, suburbs, housing projects.

This may be a neighborhood or group of neighborhoods that have a distinct character. Districts may be known for their past or present function (a “garment district,” “stockyards”), their settlers or inhabitants (Chinatown, Little Italy), the historical reputation and social stigma (Skid Row, Hell’s Kitchen, Red Light), architecture (historic, warehouse, tract housing additions), or geographic location (downtown, uptown, docks, waterfront, etc.).

Most urban dwellers develop a sense of identity around the districts in which they live, play, or do business. Each district has a reputation within the city and brings the expectation that a certain “type” of person might be found there.

Districts play a key part in the development of a city’s personality and are determining factors in social segmentation. The district in which a person lives shapes a city dweller’s understanding of himself in relation to other members of society. This is evident in so-called “blue-collar” or “working-class” neighborhoods where social and economic forces can make it hard for someone to move away.

Every population segment has its own sub-culture, language, and rules that present barriers and bridges to the spread of the gospel. When it comes to mission in the city, urban segmentation may be seen as analogous to the anthropological concept of “people groups,” as outlined by missiologist Ralph Winter.8 From this perspective, the missionary may need to take a different approach to gospel ministry for each district in the city.


Dividing lines between districts. They are the linear elements not used or considered as paths by the observer. The termination of a district is an edge: shores, railroad cuts, edges of development, walls.

Edges are the boundaries of a district. According to Lynch,9 the linear elements not used or considered as paths by the observer are where one district ends and another may begin. Edges are the borders between two places, linear breaks in the continuity of the space. Common edges are things like shores, edges of a housing development, walls, highways, rivers, etc.

As a city grows, the construction of a new interstate or commercial zone might divide an older neighborhood, effectively making one district into two. In a district with heavy foot traf c, anything that is dif cult to cross often forms an edge. Leaving one district and entering another may be as simple as crossing a street. In other instances, tunnels, bridges, gates, and crossings allow people to move between districts. Other “edges” may be less obvious; we may not be able to pinpoint exactly where one district ends and another begins, but we know when we’ve moved from one to another.

People tend to stay in their districts, the places in which they are most comfortable, crossing edges when they must (think of the “other side of the tracks,” in which, literally, the railroad tracks are an edge). The missionary must pay particular attention to the edges. All too often, the missionary thinks in terms of physical proximity and access while ignoring social boundaries that have been set up all around the city.

Crossing boundaries isn’t the job of the audience; it’s the job of the missionary. Of course, as people come to faith and are discipled toward maturity, they should be challenged to move beyond the edges, to deliberately leave one district in order to live out the gospel in another. Inviting people to cross an edge in order to hear the gospel may get in the way of inviting them to follow Jesus.


Points of reference de ned by physical objects with prominent visual features, usually large and visible: a building, sign, store, park, or mountain.

The word “landmarks” brings to mind towers and monuments, but when mapping, anything that stands out as noticeable can serve as a landmark. Lynch found that people use such objects, structures, and places to navigate the city. In giving directions to outsiders, residents use easily recognized landmarks: “Turn right at the drug store.” For insiders, they may use something more familiar, like “turn at Kevin’s house.”

Landmarks can be architectural details, such as distinctive gas- lit street lamps, cobblestone streets, or white picket fences— anything that helps a person determine where he is. Even if the landmarks don’t give away exact locations, an insider can use them to decipher what sort of place she’s in. In many cities, immigrant neighborhoods are marked with satellite dishes (to get broadcasts from home) and clothes drying on clotheslines (clothes dryers can be expensive).

Landmarks usually have lasting historical and cultural signi cance as well. A city built along a river will be shaped by it in many ways. These landmarks have signi cant and lasting effects on the people who pass them every day. Symbols of rebellion, oppression, religion, and independence emblazon themselves on the hearts of the citizens of a city.

In His earthly ministry, Jesus used landmarks to His advantage. In John 4, we read that Jesus found the “Woman at the Well,” at Jacob’s Well in Samaria. This landmark would have been a central part of life for many Samaritans, but different types of people would have been found there at different times of the day. His “Sermon on the Mount” used that landmark to both facilitate and distinguish what would become His best-known teachings. The same would have been true of various city gates, mountains, the rivers, and so on.

In fact, God’s people are instructed to be builders of landmarks. In the book of Joshua resides eight examples of God’s faithful piling rocks at the sites of His special provision, protection, or victory. These monuments served as reminders to future generations of God’s faithfulness. In many cases, it can be said that a city’s existing monuments, though built in ignorance to God’s role, might also be redeemed with memories of the Most High. The missionary can use landmarks as bridges for the communication of the gospel.



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