“Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.” (1 Peter 4:8f ESV)
It seems there’s a lot of anger in the world nowadays. The FAA reports that there have been more than 4,000 complaints from airlines of aggressive behavior onboard flights in 2021. People on freeways seem to be driving faster, more recklessly, and reports of road rage are up. I’ve witnessed several examples of road rage myself in the last few weeks. And just having a casual conversation with people, I often times sense anger. What has brought this on?
Honestly, I’m not sure if people even recognize their own anger. And if they do, I’m not sure they understand what they’re angry about. They’re just mad. And the church is not exempt from these emotions.
I think COVID has contributed a great deal to this societal feeling of angst. We feel isolated and that makes us feel lonely. We feel powerless and that turns to anger. Human beings are not meant to be isolated. At the very beginning of time, God said, “It is not good for man to be alone.” So all this time inside has bottled up our emotions. And where do these emotions go? They burst out in rage at the world and at our neighbor.
And that is why the church is prioritizing returning to in-person gathering… slowly… safely… compassionately… and respectfully. Recognizing that people seem to be more angry nowadays, we are promoting community and FUN!
On the 4th of July, we served hotdogs. We had a great Game Day in the Park for our August Family First Sunday. In September we celebrated Hispanic Heritage month with delicious street tacos and piñatas. And coming up on October 3rd, we’ll celebrate World Communion Sunday, followed by our annual International Potluck.
Why is the International Potluck important? First, it celebrates our commitment to intercultural ministry. We believe we are meant to be the Kingdom of God on earth. We pray that God’s kingdom comes on earth as it is in heaven, and the diversity in our congregation foreshadows the diversity of heaven. But also, we are better when we are diverse. We learn from each other, we grow together and we experience the full image of God when we value all people created in that image.
Secondly, it is an opportunity to invite guests. People who would not normally come to a worship service might come to an international potluck. The food is unique, and incredibly tasty. And this year we plan to invite 3 individuals from our congregation who are first generation immigrants to come share their personal experience of God, their experience with a new culture and with the church. The diversity we share in our congregation exhibits the Kingdom of God to the world and to visitors.
Finally, the International Potluck is fun. It gives us the opportunity to eat great food, sometimes exotic food. And to laugh together and strengthen friendships that take time to build.
Now, here’s the thing. Everyone I speak to – all the FPCSA church members – would like to see the church grow. And we must remember, we are all responsible for church growth. We need each other and we need to work together to help the church grow.
Can I just say, we need to work on our friendliness factor. At the last Family First Sunday, we had several new families in attendance. But I did not notice a lot of our church members interacting with those families. How can you help? First: show up! We are scheduling these events to help build community and help build new membership. But if you don’t come, then visitors look around and don’t think there are many people in the church. It’s hard for them to come back.
Secondly, when you see someone you don’t recognize, talk to them. Treat them like special guests (VIPs) in your home. Now, a word of caution. Don’t start the conversation with, “Are you new here?” Many longtime members have been deeply offended by that question. A good way to start is to say, “I don’t think I know you. My name is…”
And to quote an article I wrote about 4 years ago: we need to find a delicate balance. If we’re overly friendly, people feel overwhelmed. But if we ignore them, they feel neglected and think we’re an unfriendly bunch. I encourage you to be friendly. Smile. Smile a lot! And engage in conversations. You never know how much you have in common with someone until you’ve had a conversation with them.
Remember the acronym FORM: Family, Occupation, Recreation, and Message. Ask where a person is from, if they’re married, if they have kids. Ask what they do for a living. Ask what they do for fun. Ask what’s important to them. Ask what they’re looking for in a church. These are topics to keep a conversation going. And the more you converse, and listen, the more you get to know a person and the more they feel cared for.
When a person visits the church and the pastor is nice to them, they like it, but they expect it. They want to know if the people of the church are friendly, too. And that’s where each and every one of you comes in. In his book, “Secrets of a Secret Shopper: Reaching and Keeping Church Guests,” Greg Atkinson wrote, “Love well. Shower people with grace. Value people over production. Be real, even more than you are relevant. Stick around and talk with people before and after each service. And lastly, smile.”
A couple weeks ago, I was on our church campus a couple hours after worship. As I passed through the facility to leave, the members of the Restauracion Church – the church that is meeting in our sanctuary Sunday afternoons – were there. I was surprised at how warm they were to me. They greeted me and smiled at me and were incredibly gracious to me. One young man even asked if he could help me carry my guitar! I was impressed and reminded once again of the importance of the friendliness factor.
Let’s do all we can to show grace and love and hospitality to all who enter into our church. In so doing, perhaps we can help grow this church we love.
In Christ’s Love and Service,