If you could open your door to families from the community and hear them say, “This is the highlight of my week” – would that be enough for you? After all, it means you’d likely have nappies left in the rubbish, cake in the carpet, smudge marks on the windows, calls about a misplaced bunny and quite possibly no-one extra turn up for your Sunday service.
But are you okay with that? What results are you looking for when you open the door to families from your local community?
Many times, there’s an underlying expectation that the more families you can get attending midweek activities, the more families will join your service on Sunday. But other than providing coffee and cake, toys and trikes and receiving the warmth of a comment like, ‘This is the highlight of my week’, there’s a disconnect of expectations and purpose.
How can we bring alignment? What do we need to rethink?
Firstly, let’s reframe the purpose. What would happen if we opened during the week intending to reveal who Jesus is? Planning to achieve that purpose brings an exciting new challenge. Putting time into how we reveal Jesus will require volunteers ready to go deeper into their faith journey. Revealing Jesus isn’t about putting scripture in posters or hiding them in cookies. Revealing Jesus is about having a relationship that is alive and growing. Revealing Jesus is exhibiting a faith that is real and gnarly. Like, being bold enough to speak about the questions of life you have.
Secondly, is one interaction enough? Providing a ‘highlight of the week’ requires energy and organisation. When families attend a program, they are present in the moment. They enter in. The volunteer team contribute to the combined enjoyment and engagement. But is that enough? Creating interaction during the rest of the week is absolutely key to Jesus being revealed. Families are under considerable pressure, without COVID in the mix. They are being pushed and pulled through conversations around sexuality, success and health; consumerism shouts at their wallets; secularism calls loudly with offers of happiness and freedom. Families need to know that they have support in their dark moments. Families need to experience alternative ways to ‘be family’.
Being family happens around the meal table creating opportunity for conversation and togetherness. Gathering with those who we see at their ‘highlight of my week’ provides moments when we can be real, speak into their lives and care. This takes energy and space scheduled in our week that is relaxed and relational.
Thirdly, by rethinking our purpose, we change the way in which we interact and the way in which we say, “Well done!” Families who attend our midweek programs are not our projects. They are people who become friends. This is not a case of ‘them’ and ‘us’. They, too, are people whom God loves. They, too, are people for whom Jesus died. And thankfully while we keep our focus on becoming authentic followers of Jesus, the Holy Spirit will be at work, in all lives.
What happens when the gap is decreased? Thanks for asking. Here are some stories from churches using solutions provided by Mainly Ministries. They represent volunteer teams who have a purpose, who know one interaction isn’t enough, and have expectations that God is at work in their midst.
Pam (a church volunteer) had a random conversation with some families in their midweek group. She was telling of her need to get home to cook a lamb roast meal for her adult children who were coming over for dinner that night. Almost in unison, both mums said, “Oh, we’d love to have that!” Keeping their response in the back of her mind, she invited both families to her home for a roast lamb meal. From that time on, her relationship has deepened.
Katrina observed how one team member stood, praying for a mum, amidst the chaos and turmoil of the session. This mum had shared her difficulties, prayer was accepted, and the relationship deepened. She could see that the families genuinely appreciated the generosity of the team. They were experiencing a sense of belonging.
Three team members meet in the park with families from the group regularly. In addition, they invite each other over for meals and enjoy weekends away together. At appropriate moments, they pray with families experiencing difficulties and offering meals when needed. Another family came to church and joined the membership course. And yet another became a follower of Jesus and joined the team!
Open the door during the week. Welcome families in. Ensure the purpose is solid, your week has availability for on-going interaction, and that the Holy Spirit has a place to work, in the lives of everyone.
Written by Jo Hood, CEO of mainly Ministries, a new organisation specialising in proven community engagement solutions (mainlyministries.org).