One of my favorite things to look at in a Sunday morning bulletin is the weekly calendar. This is the space where I learn about the life of this congregation beyond the weekly worship hour. When is Youth Group? What studies are going on? What meetings are taking place? What other organizations use their space?
Recently, I have an increasing awareness of outside organizations using the different spaces of the congregations. Even beyond when the different areas of the property are in use, I am especially interested in the relationships between these outside organizations and the congregation. I love to ask various members about their involvement in these different gatherings but sadly, I am learning that the relationship is usually mostly financial.
Renting our available physical space is a wonderful way to round out the budget and help a neighbor in need, but our welcome and shared grace can help to nourish and feed a hungry soul who has come to our doors seeking. They might be seeking a safe community who shares in their struggle, or maybe they are seeking another badge for their Girl Scout or Boy Scout sash. Maybe they are seeking a more fit body or a work space away from home.
No matter the organization or person using the space, every time the physical space of our church is used, we are opening our doors to individuals who might be seeking God’s grace in their lives. Some of the organizations they come with might offer a glimpse of that, but are we doing anything to help in the offering– to be the Church outside of the Sunday worship hour?
What would the Church look like if even once a month, members brought refreshments or stood as door greeters when outside meetings are taking place? What would we learn about our neighbors who use this space if we asked if we might sit in on a meeting sometime or offered a brief prayer at the opening of the meeting?
I regularly read mission statements and see signs that say “All are welcome!” Sermons are preached on welcome and visitors are greeted during the worship hour with smiles and open arms. Following worship, though, the lights are quickly shut off and the doors locked until the next meeting when we rush in and out, focusing only on the next thing on our own to do list and very little on the strangers, the neighbors, we pass.
Our welcome, not just on Sunday morning, is what shapes each congregation and the wider Church. I have left workouts in church parking lots disheartened after overhearing conversations along the lines of “I thought about coming here on Sunday, but they just don’t seem very welcoming the way they look at us and complain.” How would those conversations sound if the person dropping by for a book walked over and greeted the group in the parking lot, or even offered a case of cold water at the close of the workout? I have visited churches during the week for studies or to leave information and been greeted with “Why are you here?” followed by a grunt. Would I have returned for the study the next week if the greeting were a smile and “How can I help you?” Probably, but instead I stayed home to work.
Signs, like we talked about last week, can help to bring someone in. It is our actions that will help to embrace and nourish those who are now here in this Holy space, no matter the reason! The people we welcome may never come on Sunday morning, but they just might leave feeling refreshed and encouraged and might even recommend our church to a friend; OR maybe our welcome will be exactly what they were waiting for and they will be the first in the pew next week! The most important thing to remember, though, is it that it is not about what we receive, rather it is about what we give– God’s grace and love through our welcome.
How does your congregation minister and walk with organizations using your physical space?
Rev. Jordan B. Davis