"Sounds good. You take care of the faith department, I'll handle the works department." Not so fast. You can no more show me your works apart from your faith than I can show my faith apart from my works… that seamless unity of believing and doing – what counted with God? The very moment you separate body and spirit, you end up with a corpse. Separate faith and works and you get the same thing: a corpse. (James 2.18, 2.25-26 - The Message)
I often think about doing community just to do community, with no ulterior motive. I still think we need to do community without any overt motive. People can see a motive a mile away and be turned off by it.
But, maybe embracing your motive isn't such a bad thing…
When I walk down the street and make friends with a stranger, there's no motive. It's simple care for the person I am meeting and a desire to get to know them better. Over time we can begin talking about faith, but my purpose is to express the love I have for the person and the love Jesus has for them.
But when I have an Easter Eggstravaganza or a game night or a car wash, people come with an expectation. People are coming, knowing that they are going to a church event. Maybe keeping with the underlying motive isn't bad.
People who show up to a church event have certain expectations. I want to surprise them and let them attend the event very relaxed and without fear of our trying to "convert" them. At the same time though, they do know they are coming to an event sponsored by a church. Maybe it's ok to spend some time talking about the church or about god in some subtle way.
I guess it comes back to the idea that if I'm trying to reach the unchurched, they don't want to hear about a church. But that's a big assumption that I don't think is entirely true.
I think people do want to hear about church and about the saving relationship Jesus can bring. They don't want to hear about how they are messed up and sinners. But I do think they want to hear a message of hope, friendship and love for the person they are, no changes required. They want to hear how they can be better people, and see an example of how a community centered on Christ's love can change the world.
What probably needs to change is out reaction to the people. We don't want to sermonize to them, and, mainly, we don't want them to feel excluded or uncomfortable.
Whenever we have an event we need to have every single parishioner attending that event want to welcome the visitors and spend ½ an hour or more (or whatever's appropriate) getting to know that person. If they don't have anything in common, help plug them into another person who shares their interests (or at least mention that specific person who shares the interest and ask if they'd like to meet them).
Every person in the church is a leader of the church. Every person is an example of Christ's love. Every visitor needs to get so much of that love that they feel completely comfortable and enjoy their visit. The whole society should be centered around caring for each-other and the visitors.
There can be no fear on our side in meeting or approaching a stranger.
In the case of church events, these are people coming into a strange situation and knowing no one. We come in knowing people there, or at least having some history with the church sponsoring the event. Who are we to feel afraid to meet someone new and make them feel welcome? That's ridiculous.
But I also need to be clear that making someone feel welcome doesn't involve saying hello, chatting for 2 minutes, and moving on. It involves (the the extent that it's comfortable for the visitor) spending a LOT of time with the person. Committing half an hour or more to really getting to know that person. To following them and chatting while you do whatever is involved in the event. It involves introducing your family to the person, and having your whole family take on that same role of getting to know the visiting person or family.
Meeting people outside a church event is a little harder, people are scared of approaching a total stranger. With no perceived safety net, they aren't willing to make the leap. I mean, what do you talk about?
Well, people are drawn together by common interest. If you see a stranger at Starbucks, you definitely have something in common. If it's the same time of day (say 8am) it's a good bet you're both getting ready for work. So you can always talk about the coffee or work. If it's really early, say 6am, that n itself is a topic for discussion, like "Wow, you get up as early as I do… Have you got kids too?"
So, back to the safety net idea. If we really call ourselves Christians, and accept Jesus as our partner in life, then we actually have a safety net. We may not be at church and have all the people around us that we know, but we do have one person holding our hand and with us every moment of every day.
I've begun trying to live with God in my life every moment of every day, which I got from the book Practicing His Presence by Brother Lawrence and Frank Laubach. I'm beginning to see that keeping God in mind constantly, as a friend I talk to about everything and as that little voice in your head, brings a closer connection with Him. I'm finding that I am more comfortable and secure in my decisions, because I already talked them out with God. It also feels like God is more present, that if something (bad or good) happens, he knows about it and will do something about it.
When I really accept Jesus into my life, I have a safety net. It's easy to miss sometimes, and certainly doesn't feel as safe as having a group of friends next to you. But when you have a group of friends with you it's much harder to make the stranger you're meeting feel comfortable.
All I can really think is that we need to be far more proactive about meeting other people. I need to make my whole life about loving strangers and making them feel comfortable and welcome in my life and God's.