By Judy Zabel
Happy New Year! I have been talking about getting fit for several years. I have read about it, I have dreamed about it, I have talked about it with friends and yesterday, I finally took an action step—I joined a fitness club. It has taken me some time to actually go to the club and sit down with someone to learn about what this could mean for my life. It was a little intimidating to walk into LA Fitness in Hopkins. It is bright, shiny and big. There are lots of really buff people walking around (but also some "beginners" like me) and I wondered if I would ever really feel comfortable there? I don't know a spin cycle from an elliptical. I thought a spin cycle was on my washing machine! As I walked through the center with the manager, Shawn, I wondered, "Can I be disciplined enough to actually go?" There is a little fear. Why? Because I am not very athletic. I have never "gone out for a sport." I am lucky if I can walk and chew gum at the same time. There you are; confessions from an out of shape DS. I know I can't do this without a plan.
The thing about the manager, Shawn, is...he is really excited about LA Fitness. He loves it there. He knows every machine, every feature and he really enjoys showing people what they have to offer. Of course, he wants to sell me a package and I'm not so naive as to think that he just does this out of the love of it. I know and he knows that his exuberance affects his bottom line. Guess what? Our exuberance affects our bottom line too. Are you excited about what God has to offer your neighbors? Are you excited about what your church has to offer the people who walk through the door? Are you so jazzed about what GOD is doing in your midst that you are excited to tell your neighbors so they can get in on the good stuff too? Hospitality is the number one reason visitors return a second time. Even If the sermon was great but no one talked with them, they won't come back. Guess what? Our bottom line isn't at the bottom of our financial statements. Our bottom line is changed lives. Our bottom line is making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. How does our bottom line look as you begin to fill out your tables for your church for 2012?
I've been thinking about my first experience at LA Fitness and wondering if people who haven't been in a church for a very long time (or at not at all) feel as out of sorts as I did at LA Fitness when they finally get enough courage up to come through our doors on a Sunday morning. I wonder if they will find someone as welcoming as Shawn, who will actually take time to walk them through the experience so they see, hear and experience our Wesleyan Way of life. Are we attentive enough to notice those timid, shy people who walk through our doors for the very first time? Do we overwhelm them or are we ready to show them around and leave lots of space for questions and wonderings?
Hospitality should come naturally to us but it doesn't hurt to ask a neighbor or friend to come and visit your church and then give you some feedback about how it felt for them during their visit. Did anyone really talk with them? Did people look them in the eye when they welcomed them at the door or when they handed them a bulletin? Did anyone invite them to coffee hour and offer to sit with them? Did anyone show them where to hang their coats? Did anyone say, "Glad you came today, I hope you'll join us for lunch or if you have plans, hope you'll come back next week."
It wouldn't hurt to get into a new plan for hospitality in this New Year. It wouldn't hurt us to start working on some of those hospitality muscles that may be just a little flabby because we are so used to connecting with just the people we know when we get to church. How about stretching some new hospitality muscles? I learned from my new trainer that muscles are strengthened when we actually tear the ones we have and as they heal they are stronger. (Sounds a little uncomfortable) We may feel a little uncomfortable going up to a stranger. We might even be a little scared. But our church will be strengthened when we risk our fear for the sake of another. When we exercise that hospitality muscle God is able to get to work on transforming lives.
Today, I met with a trainer. She said I will be working on a plan to exercise different muscle groups. I can't just exercise the same muscles every day. I have to do different ones each day. Fascinating; we can't just keep doing the same things over and over and hope for different results. We can't just wing it and hope for the best. I realized again today that having a plan keeps us moving forward. The plan gives us hope because it is aimed at a vision for a new future. The plan helps us stay focused so I don't just spin (quite literally) around and accomplish very little. How is your ministry plan coming along? How are the children in your neighborhood? Are you praying for the classes in the closest elementary school nearest to your church? What is your ongoing plan to bless those students and teachers? What is your plan for radical hospitality? Do you have one? If you do, is your plan bearing fruit? Is it time to modify the plan for greater effectiveness? How will you know?
Let me know how it is going at your church. I really do want to know your breakthrough stories. We are energized and renewed when we can see progress even if they are just baby steps. I'm praying for you. By the way, Shawn mentioned to me that he lives in Apple Valley and that he didn't make it to church on Christmas Eve because he didn't know where to go. I told him about Rosemount UMC. What a great church it is, etc. Guess what? He told me he used to go to Wesley UMC and that Rev. Larry Nielsen had performed their marriage. He grew up at Portland Avenue UMC and he knew Rev. Suzanne Mades. I invited him to give Rosemount UMC try and he said he would. I'm going to pray for Shawn and his wife. I hope you will too. You just never know what God will do. Won't you be a part of God's plan for hospitality?
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church