I’ve been thinking a lot lately about connecting to people in our broader community for the sake of God’s mission.
In my reflections, one thing has hit home again and again: the importance of entering into and living within “non-church” spaces.
A common instinct for ministers and churches when seeking to connect to the community is to host some sort of community event and invite community people to it—a marriage seminar; a financial management class; a kids’ camp. Most of the time such events are hosted at church facilities. Sometimes they’re hosted at neutral locations in the community.
The location is less important than who is hosting the event—the church. The event becomes inherently “church space” because the church is hosting it.
What’s the problem with that? There’s no inherent problem with the church hosting events that connect to the community. But there is a potential problem given that more and more non-Christian people distrust, or are at least ambivalent toward, the institution of church such that they’d be more likely to participate in a marriage seminar or financial management class elsewhere.
All this resurfaces the importance of cultivating personal relationships with non-Christian people and building trust with them (so they can see we’re not wacko). And how do you go about doing that?
Enter into relationships with people in “non-church” spaces.
Non-church spaces are places where the church doesn’t set the agenda, plan the party or control the atmosphere. There’s no bible study. No prayer before the meal. No announcement about upcoming worship gatherings.
A significant reason Christianity has struggled in North America is because it has neglected to engage these kinds of non-church spaces. Churches have neglected non-church spaces for the same reason non-Christian people have avoided coming to church spaces: fear.
It’s a scary thing to venture off into territory where we have little control over things, where we’re different and might be the minority. So who should be required to take the initiative, churches or non-Christian people? It’s almost a rhetorical question.
If the church is to connect to its community it must first be part of that community. It must venture out into non-church spaces.
Here are a few non-church spaces in which the Storyline Community has either spent time intends to spend time (many of these are determined by our context and might be different somewhere else; some of these are based on our own passions):
- Civic organization events
- Community service organizations
- Sports leagues (joining other people’s teams)
- Concerts and plays
- Fitness clubs
- Apartment communities where we live
- Restaurants, bars and coffee shops
Our major victories these days are simply 1) having the courage to enter such non-church spaces and 2) the relationships that emerge from them. The hope is that the shape the church takes will consist of and be informed by community relationships such that Storyline becomes a church that grows out of its surrounding culture.
We’re seeing this hope become reality in small ways already…more about that later.