I want to take you back two and a half years. Our Mission Team organised a day conference to help us think about what it means to be a missional church. In one session, Jon Gemmell described the multistage process that typically must be undergone for a stranger to become a contact, an acquaintance, and (God willing) a convert. He also gave examples of out of the box thinking which can result in church events that are not humdrum and boring. Jason Nelson of 20 Schemes also gave a talk. In his message, he described in concrete detail what a community church looks like. Such a church is not just open for services and prayer meetings; it’s a revolving door that sees people in and out of the building all through the week. Finally, Andy Chittick gave a message about how to avoid discouragement. His main point was that, if God closes one door, try another. Eventually, one of them is going to crack open and, when it does, that is the one to keep pushing on.
Let’s now fast forward to the present month and review what just happened during Community Week. First, praise God for a full week of remarkably attractive events. From Pickleball to Cream Tea, International Food Night to a Scottish ceilidh, each event had a strong appeal to a particular group in the community. Second, this jampacked week accelerated our presence in the area. Although we’re limited right now in what we can offer day-by-day, at least for one week we were able to turn on the lights as brightly as possible as if to say, “Here we are, ready to serve you!” Finally, Community Week was not a haphazard enterprise. The week was carefully designed to apply further pressure on the doors that God had already unlocked for us.
Just pause for a moment and give thanks for all that God has done among us since our mission conference two years ago. Yet, also look forward. The journey is not complete. Who knows where God might lead us if we continue to step out in the space of trust and obedience!
Now, one thing I’ve been doing since the end of Community Week is collecting some lessons that are worth pondering. Here are six things that have been on my mind as I reflect on how to carry the momentum of January forward.
1 – It’s Easy to Invite a Friend to a Great Event
Personally, I found it easy to talk to people about Community Week. For example, as I told people about a shared meal in the building that would be catered to by local restaurants, I watched as peoples’ eyes lit up. Some even said, “What a great idea!”. A few actually attended.
We need to learn from this. No one wants to attend a boring event. Equally, no one wants to invite a friend to a boring event. If we want people to show up at our events, and if we want our members to invite friends to our events, we need to make sure they pass a simple test of being appealing.
2 – Evangelism Happens When Salty Christians Sit Next to Non-Christians
Multiple times through the week I looked out and saw members of HEC seated among people in the community. Later I heard stories. Some were of people sharing their testimonies; others of people engaged in honest conversations about spiritual topics; others of people listening attentively to stories of pain and suffering.
Now, we often think of evangelism in terms of a formal sermon or intentional conversation, but this is not the only way that the gospel is communicated. A lot of us who lack gifting as preachers and apologists are very skilled in listening and conversing. Given the right setting, we are able to point people to Christ in ways that are gracious and self-effacing.
The lesson to take away from this is the evangelistic power of finding ways to scatter non-believers among believers. Here food is an invaluable asset. People who eat together speak together.
3 – Extravagant Generosity Is an Appetizer of Grace
I’ll never forget a moment that happened last Thursday night. It occurred toward the end of the meal as trays of delicious and beautiful desserts were being passed around tables. There was a look on the faces of people all around the room. It said this: “Who would do this!” People were astounded by the generosity of the evening. It surpassed what was expected – perhaps what even seemed reasonable.
Such astonishment is a foretaste of grace. Is this not the response of anyone who has encountered the sacrifice of Christ, “Who would do this!” Let’s continue to find ways of being extravagant in our gifts of love.
4 – People Volunteer If a Project Is Worth the Effort
How do we get more volunteers? One method is badgering. This is rarely effective. Another method is casting a vision for a project that fulfils the longings of God’s people. Christians want to see the hungry fed, the lonely visited, and prodigal sons returning home. Let’s continue to cast a vision for missional projects that capture and direct the goodwill of God’s people.
5 – Effective Publicity Takes Money and Effort
I’m confident of one thing: people around Easter Road knew that Community Week was happening. This itself was a significant “win”. Often poor publicity is a basket hiding the lamp of the church. A great event is planned, but very few people make a choice to attend or not because very few people know about it.
If we are going to make a difference in the Meadowbank area, we need to continue to be strategic – not just in planning events – but in publicising them. Let’s budget accordingly.
By Joe Barnard