I’ve written a couple of articles recently about our outreach post COVID. I’ve suggested that we might want to revisit some of our weekday programmes. That’s partly because I suspect there will be a nervousness about attending such events for a while, and indeed, the suggestion that social distancing measures will be needed until well into the Autumn may further restrict them. It’s also partly because I’m not convinced that traditional programmes and the bread and butter of the church week such as youth clubs and Toddlers groups makes as much difference as we think evangelistically. I’m not convinced that some of the newer things we’ve tried like opening cafes in our buildings has that big an evangelistic impact either.
So, it is probably worth saying a little bit more about those particular things – I suspect my comments will not have gone down too well in some quarters and will be treated as examples of a conservative evangelical being all about words, truth, intellect and not about deeds, love and relationships.
The first thing I want to say is that over the years I’ve given serious time to supporting and participating in the three examples given. I’ve been present at midweek clubs as a helper, leader and sometimes as a background adult to talk to parents. I used to get down to Bearwood Chapel on a Tuesday when I could to chat to families and be available for prayer, to help put out and clear away toys and sometimes to cover on the front desk registering people as they came in. I even gave running our community café a go!
So, given my reservations, why? Well, the first thing to say is that I believe in the whole church making decisions together. It was not for me as the pastor to dictate how we did things. We made those decisions together. So, I wanted to support the teams involved in those areas. I wanted to be available for the opportunities God might give me in those contexts and furthermore, it wasn’t a bad thing to have those activities available. It’s not a bad thing to have a café where lonely people can drop in for a chat and where providing for need comes before profit so that we probably gave out more free food to local homeless people than we ever sold! It’s not a bad thing to provide loving, welcoming activities for hard pressed families. And, there is nothing wrong with church members who have the time and desire to do those things to do them nor for a church that has space available to host them.
My point is that it isn’t wrong to do those things, it’s simply that we should not assume that they are the magic/ silver bullet for our evangelism. Furthermore, these activities may not be the only or even the best way to love our neighbours, to show compassion and mercy to our communities.
They may be a good way of doing that. Our community café certainly provided a place where lonely people found friendship, hungry people found food and where several people had their confidence built up by volunteering before going into part time or full time work.
Often such things function best when they arise naturally. The best example of a Toddlers’ group I’m aware of started a few years after the church had closed down its previous mums and toddlers’ ministry. It had actually reached the stage where the group was quite a hostile place for Christians to go! Then a church member began to meet other mums/mums to be from her ante-natal group in a local park during the summer, as the summer drew to a close, she invited her friends back to the church hall and they agreed as a group together to start a mums and tots group. They also agreed it would have a Christian ethos with Bible stories and songs.
So, these things can provide opportunities for compassion, context for building friendship and in time, in the context of friendship, Gospel opportunities too. However, there are also lots of other ways, as I suggested in previous articles that we can make friends and plenty of opportunities to love our neighbours. Sometimes the best examples of seeing God’s love in action are the informal ones that don’t require a church ministry to organise.