For the past month, I have been meeting with 18 other people on Tuesday nights at a local coffee shop for a coupling class. Rather than do our premarital course at the church this year, we decided we would advertise it at the city bridal show in January and do it in a public space in March. People came, and we talked and shared stories. We more than doubled the impact we would have had offering the course at church.
Doing ministry outside of your church’s four walls is as old as dirt, but so quickly we forget how important it is. Wesley was a master at it with open-air preaching. He was taking his cue from the apostles who ministered in the public spaces of their day. Wesley knew that to connect with people, you have to go to where they are.
Many churches are preparing for a future that may never come. We settle for trying to attract a crowd rather than working to penetrate one. If we look to Europe as a harbinger of things to come, we quickly see that attractional church is likely on the wane. We must be careful not to make the success of the past our only roadmap for the future.
Here are some practical ways you can air out your ministry:
Hold your next staff or council meeting in a public space. Let that space challenge your thinking about connecting with your community.
Offer worship in a public space. Perhaps one of your two services could take place at the public school, or several times a year it could happen somewhere else outside your building.
Office at least one day per week at a local coffee shop. I recently saw a pastor who put a small sign on his table, saying that he was a pastor and that he would hear and pray for any needs of passers-by.
Buy a jumbo-sized grill to loan to anyone in your congregation who will organize a block party in their neighborhood. Don’t let it be used on church property where you will only perpetuate the “church club” mentality.
Begin to plan and pray now about staging a new ministry off-site in fall 2017. Perhaps this could be a career transition group, a recovery group, or a parenting group.
Try a pub Bible study. Find a night that a local owner may be eager for you to imbibe, and invite others to join you.
It is worth noting that the first martyr of the church, Stephen, challenged the idea that buildings are sacred to God: “The most high God does not dwell in houses made by human hands” Acts 7:48. If we push on the idol of sacred structures, we might get some push back. We might also discover the practices of missional leadership so needed today.
Rev. Ben Ingebretson is director of new church development for the Dakotas-Minnesota Area of the United Methodist Church.