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One of my favorite musicals (and movies) is "The Music Man." In the opening number, one of the traveling salesmen boldly declares, "You gotta know the territory!" It's definitely true for the traveling salesman: if you don't know where you are -- if you don't know who those people are and what they want -- you're not going to manage to sell a lot of goods.

Churches don't exactly sell stuff, but we could learn something from the salesman. We gotta know the territory. Who are the people of Russell County? Are they farmers, are they factory workers, are they elite lawyers and politicians, are they Ph.D. scientists? What about their families? Is family a priority here, or do people talk to a lone aunt on Thanksgiving and that's it? Is life here fast-paced, slow, or somewhere in-between? And that goes into what they may want in a church: is it flashing lights? Rock bands? Organs and choirs? Preachers in full robes who process down the aisle at the start of the service? Anonymity? Friendly people in the pews next to them? Simple gospel sermons? What do they want a church to do other than worship? Community involvement, school involvement, fellowship events for church members only?

Those are a lot of questions, I know, but there are hundreds more I could ask about every aspect of what we do as a church. But after we answer those questions and decide a path forward, we need to ask a couple of others: does doing what we do make us look like the people around us in the community, or do we end up looking like some sort of elite club? Beyond that: whether we give people what they want or not, are we being faithful to the gospel of Jesus Christ and following God's will for our church?

While we need to look like our community (it does no good to look like a New York City church in Russell Springs), we must remain true to what God has called us to be. But to do that, we gotta know the territory.

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