Remember the hidden portals in the Harry Potter books? There was more than one way to enter a space or gathering, and often those entry points were not obvious.
21st Century Churches take note: most of the people whom we are called to serve and love will never come through our doors on a Sunday morning at 11 am (or 8:30 am or 6 pm or whenever we offer organized worship gatherings.) Yes, people who are looking for church will find us. But there are many others who are either unfamiliar with institutional church practices or not interested in institutional church practices. So imagine this kind of weekly schedule:
Monday nights: Gathering to eat half-price burgers together at a local sports pub (easy entry for non-church people, random co-workers, friends)
Tuesday nights: Small group gathering at somebody’s apartment
Wednesday nights: Bible study at a different person’s apartment
Thursday nights: Meet-up for a movie in local theatre, followed by optional plot debrief at a coffee shop or bar
Friday nights: Board games at another person’s condo
Saturday mornings: Help friends move from one apartment to another, followed by pizza for all the volunteers
Sunday night: Worship gathering
This was once the average weekly schedule for one church made up primarily of young adults in DC area (although they’ve tapered their current schedule due to lack of staffing.) DC is filled with 1) people who are not from there, 2) people who are new to town and looking for friends, and 3) single people and couples without children. It was a brilliant schedule for connecting people who may or may not be looking for “a church.” You could easily invite a new person to Monday Night Burgers and other activities before they ever meet the gang for Sunday night – if they ever do. It was about community. (Remember: Belong-Behave-Believe.)
Churches that count on people to enter only through their Sunday morning sanctuary doors – whether that sanctuary is in a traditional church building or an art gallery – will fail to reach people who are longing for community. Imagine a schedule like this:
Monday Night: Half price burgers at local burger place (good for singles, people with kids, couples, all ages)
Tuesday morning: Spirituality for Parents Group in local coffee shop with separate room (good for parents who are home in the mornings, with or without their babies)
Wednesday after work: Faith on Tap/Theology on Tap (dinner optional) in a local tavern with a speaker discussing various spiritual matters of the day (e.g. what’s going on in Syria, what’s going on with teenage moms in the county, what do the local Bahai neighbors believe?). About a 45 minute gathering so people can get home. (Good for busy people who want to connect and learn something interesting.) Note: our Roman Catholic sisters and brothers might take issue if you use “Faith on Tap” since they’ve trademarked it.
Thursday night: Bible study in local bar/coffee shop/community center/public library
Friday night: Parents Night Out with pizza for the kids at church building (good for parents who need a date, or time to go grocery shopping; staffed by young adults or paid nursery workers/youth workers)
Saturday morning: Weekly Random Love Bomb – gathering to take frozen popcicles to local park, serving free hot chocolate at a bus stop, raking a neighbor’s leaves, painting a person’s garage, doing everyone’s laundry at laundromat, handing out free bottles of water at busy intersection. Just because. No flyers. No “come to our church” hand-outs. (Good for everybody. Totally fun. Short time commitment.)
Sunday: Worship Gathering
The 21st Century Church will require numerous portals for entry in different places for different demographics. How many entry points does your community have for new/not-yet-believing/shy people to enter?
Your ideas often make me pump my fist in the air in solidarity. But the Random Saturday Love Bomb makes me want to (as the say in the Book of Mormon) “blow God’s freakin’ mind.”
Seriously. I’ve got goosebumps.
Thank you so much for your blog. I’ve been reading it over the last several months and appreciate so much your insightful comments. With this post, I don’t disagree with the general idea of your proposal, but these examples mostly strike me as things that would appeal to middle class folks – which isn’t a problem if that is the “target” of who you are reaching out to. But, if I didn’t have the funds for coffee or half price burgers – I might feel excluded. It’s very challenging. I’m blessed to be a part of a congregation that has members from many different economic strata and it’s something that I have to keep reminding myself when we think about having events.
Thanks Beth. I appreciate your comment so much.
I would pick “entry points” that fit with your context. Planning community gatherings for 20-somethings in DC is totally different from planning gatherings for the homeless on Broad Street in Philadelphia or for unemployed parents in Kansas City. Missional ecclesiology is the way to go.
Very thought provoking material. I took the liberty of clicking the link and sending it to our leaders of a congregation here…As I looked at the ideas, I thought I’d like to be part of something like these communities (the random love bomb was especially enticing—the burgers sounded pretty good too).
Excellent ideas. What is especially nice about the weekday events is that they are something that lay volunteers in the congregation can run with relatively little staff attention. I also love the Random Love Bomb (make sure you trademark that one if it’s still available 🙂 as it opens the door to missional service to those people who can’t make the commitment or have the skills/time to do big things like build a house or go somewhere far away to help people in need.
No need to trademark RLB – but thanks. I just want all churches to do this. 🙂