Originally posted March 6, 2013, at Humble Walk. Republished with permission of the author.
A couple of weeks ago, a panel of superstar Humble folk spent a couple hours at a Saint Paul Area Synod event called, “Toolkit.” It’s a training day — set up for church leaders. We were invited to respond to the recent report that shows the ever-widening group labeled, “The Nones.” The Nones are those who claim no religious affiliation.
There is plenty to say — much has already been said. Hands have been wrung. Perhaps you’ve done your fretting and worrying over the demise. Great. Now, let’s set all that down and get to work.
At the very basic level even throwing around a label like “None” is troublesome. (See also: “unchurched or underchurched.”) Stop using them! (not that you ever would. But if you do, stop.) No one wants to be defined by what you presume is “The Other.” As if you are part of the club and they are not. Ick. You can throw “member” out, too. I know, I know. But really — I believe we can find other ways of actively being involved in a faith community without needing to be labeled “member.” Just tell anyone and everyone who shows up to anything and everything that they are now a part of your community. Done.
Now that that is out of the way, what I am most interested in is the earnest questions we heard at the end of our time. The room was overflowing with folks sincerely invested in church — and all were from traditional settings (bricks and mortar). “Is the way you do church even possible in a traditional church setting?” Yes. In a highly contextualized way. I believe with my whole heart that you can test the waters with two simple strategies. (Hilarious. I said strategies).
Implement these straight away and see what happens. (I have an idea of what might happen. Brace yourself for transformation.)
Leave your building. Hold every single meeting, committee, council, team, fellowship outside of your church walls. Honestly. Get out. Go to coffee shops, pubs, restaurants, parks, picnic tables, homes, alleys. Yes, it takes legwork — but the food and drink will be better, you will be surrounded by people who don’t even know you exist and your eyes and ears will be tuned to the general public (rather than just those brave souls who make the effort to enter your church building). Also, you will be uncomfortable (and that seems to be important). You will be on the receiving end of hospitality (and no longer in the powerful place of providing it). Where might you hold next month’s council meeting? Stewardship committee?
Host an ice cream social this spring. NOT on your church property. And give it away for free — without agenda. This is not (NOT) about getting folks into worship. This is not (NOT) recruiting summer vacation Bible school volunteers. This is not (NOT) bait-and-switch. This is your church believing that the world is better if neighbors know one another. This is about people developing relationships with those who live across the street from them. This is about trusting the incarnation — that Jesus is already present so you can set aside that clipboard of volunteer opportunities and just enjoy getting to know someone.
Maybe you want to do six of them — on the lawns of six different people? Or in the apartment complex where one of your folks lives. Or in the park nearby. We walk little handmade fliers around our hood that say, “Ice Cream Social. 6-8 PM. Free. Come meet your neighbors. ” At the bottom, we write, “Ice cream provided by the folks at Humble Walk Lutheran Church.” We are intentionally transparent about that — with the risk that people might not want to come because it’s a church thing (not a problem. It’s free ice cream). We take that risk because we don’t want folks to find out afterward that it was a “sneaky” church thing that they were hoodwinked into coming to with the promise of Rocky Road.
Now go! (And then let us know how it goes).
Find a link to Jodi Houge’s blog Humble Walk at Lutheran Blogs.