Practicing radical hospitality

June 17, 2014

by Rev. Paul Marzahn

Rev. Paul Marzahn is new church strategist for the Minnesota Conference.

In recent columns, Dan Johnson has been sharing how new church starts are pockets of innovation that help all churches discover new ways to “make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”

I’m going to share a great learning experience involving one of the new church starts I’m involved with. CROSSROADS of Minneapolis is a new church start that meets in Historic Wesley at Grant (a building formerly referred to as the Historic Wesley Center) on Sunday evenings for worship. Each Sunday, worship is at 5 p.m. and is followed by a 6 p.m. supper.

The ministry team decided to hold an outdoor worship service since it was Memorial Day weekend and attendance was anticipated to be small. The idea was to keep the service simple and eat outside so people passing by might notice something happening in their neighborhood. The group set up chairs for about 30 in the parking lot since that is how many attended last year's service.

As the team started playing music, people walking by stopped to see what was going on. They were invited to join the circle and sing or even just listen. After music time, some of the members led a time of testimony in which they shared what God was doing in their lives. Even more people walking by stopped to listen to these incredible stories of faith. By the time the messages ended, the initial group had nearly doubled in size to almost 60. 

The ministry team kept engaging people as they walked by on the street and invited them to join in the service and remain for supper. By the time hamburgers and hot dogs were grilling, the CROSSROADS community ended up feeding over 120. The group was expecting to feed a maximum of 50 so the leaders made an emergency run to the grocery store and bought food for another 100.

The entire evening was a miracle of the Holy Spirit to see the gathering quadruple in size. The team has now decided to do outdoor worship and food once a month in the summer.

The leaders, inspired by this success, decided to plan some other intentional ways to do ministry that extends into the community. Here are some of the ideas, which your church is welcome to adopt:

Picnic-in-the-park gatherings: A few days before the event, hand out flyers in the neighborhood, letting others know there will be games, crafts, and food in the park nearby. Have a small group lead the gathering; this allows visitors to invite their friends to a simple, non-threatening event where they can meet other church members in a relaxed setting. At the event, provide information about the church and upcoming activities, such as Vacation Bible School.

Parades: Most communities have a summertime parade; find out how to get involved in your community parade. Make sure your float is engaging and promotes an upcoming event at your church. Passing out candy is always a crowd-pleaser, but have a small invite business card or object with your church name and information on it to hand out too. This year, CROSSROADS is throwing out flying discs with its name and contact information.

Sports camps: Much of our culture is engaged in sports. Rather than complain that kids should come to a traditional church camp, start an innovative camp that aligns with the interests of the people in your community—maybe a sports camp. Basketball, soccer, baseball and other sports camps are fairly inexpensive and easy to organize. Rent a park or school facility, and if possible, get your local community education program or park board to help sponsor the camp through publicity. At the camp, introduce people to your church and invite them to its upcoming events.

Vacation Bible School: Many churches put on a fantastic Vacation Bible School. Think about doing a second, modified version of the experience at a neighborhood park. By bringing the experience to where kids are already playing, and offering it at no cost, kids who might never walk into a church building will attend.

Sidewalk chalk artwork/graffiti: As part of your youth and children's ministry, go around the community with sidewalk chalk and write encouraging sayings—things like “God loves you!”, “God doesn’t make junk!”, and “Count your blessings!” Then on the bottom, leave your church name and e-mail address. This can also be done in conjunction with park events or parades for greater impact.

True outreach is not always about getting people in the building. The best outreach events engage the community where they are. Coming to the church happens later. We have to remember that Jesus said, “Wherever two or three are gathered in my name, I am with them”(Matthew 18:20). Instead of thinking of gearing up for outreach in the fall, think of getting outside and engaging your community this summer.

Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church

122 West Franklin Avenue, Suite 400 Minneapolis, MN 55404

(612) 870-0058