If you’re church is anything like mine, you probably already enjoyed, or will soon enjoy, the annual church picnic. It’s that time the entire church family converges to share potluck potato salad and way too many cookies and bars from the dessert table.
Our church kicks off summer with the picnic, and ends the season with a three-day outdoor retreat over Labor Day weekend. Sometimes in between we share an outdoor dinner on Sundays after evening worship.
Those times of “family” are important to help us remain connected to one another. Breaking bread together is a crucial part of the Christian experience, and helps build the kind of community and connection God desires for the Church.
Yet it’s very important that we don’t get so caught up in “family” activities that we ignore others in our community who aren’t a part of our congregations.
Back in 2007 I attended The National Outreach Convention in San Diego. One of the workshop speakers, pastor John Angle, related how at one time he and his wife were so caught up in church family activities, they had no time to connect with people in their own neighborhood.
Angle vividly recalled one evening how as he and his wife pulled out of their driveway and drove out of the neighborhood for a church event they were obliged to attend, they passed by neighbors who were coming together on the street for an impromptu block party. They felt genuine pain that they weren’t going to be part of the party, and confided in one another that they really didn’t want to go to the church event.
That experience radically shifted Angle’s thinking about outreach and evangelism. He developed a whole new strategy for outreach based on neighborhood evangelism. His congregation went from planning everything at the church, to members hosting events in their own neighborhoods.
For example, Angle and his wife set up some food and drinks in their front yard on Halloween, so that neighborhood parents could drop by with their kids and hang out with each other before moving on for more Trick or Treating.
Their only agenda was to get to know their neighbors and build relationships. They did not force their faith on neighbors, but rather allowed room for spiritual conversations to emerge organically over time.
I’ve invested in getting to know my neighbors over the years. Several years ago, I decided I knew them well enough that I could bring up faith directly. My family braved inviting the neighbors to an Alpha Course introduction dinner at our house. A number of neighbors who never would have come to our church a few miles away came to the dinner on our street, and most came back for the 10-week course we hosted in our home. Even after the course ended, we continued with a Bible Study for several months.
It’s not too late. There’s still some summer left. If you haven’t already thought about how to connect with neighbors, consider planning a little summertime get together. It doesn’t have to be fancy or carefully produced. Maybe a few snacks and beverages, and the space to get to know one another.
On another note: Evangelism Sunday is coming up on Sept. 25. You can download the worship packet at http://www.pcusa.org/resource/2011-evangelism-sunday-worship-packet/.