Saturday, September 04, 2010

Tis the Season

By Robin G. Jordan

Gathering a core group for a new church is one of the most challenging and exciting aspects of starting a new church. It takes time, patience, and prayer. The church starter must expand his social circle and penetrate other social circles in the community. He must make contact with members of other social circles and build relationships with them.

The months of September, October, November, and December provide a number of opportunities for meeting people and building bridges with the community that may bear fruit in a nucleus for the new church. Children will have returned to school and will be involved in various extracurricular activities. Where children gather for these activities, their parents also gather.

If a church starter has children or grandchildren who play soccer, he may want to volunteer to coach a soccer team or referee soccer matches. He will certainly want to attend their practices and matches and meet the other children’s parents. If one or more of his children or grandchildren or even nieces or nephews or grand-nieces or grand-nephews play in the middle school or high school band, he may want to become a band booster. Whatever the interest of a child or grandchild, they usually present opportunities to meet the parents or extended family of other children.

September, October, November, and December are generally months in which community groups and organizations require additional volunteers. Volunteering in a good way for church starters and their families to get know more people in the community and in turn for more people to get to know them. Volunteer activities bring them into contact with other community-minded people as well as community groups and organizations.

If the church starter has already gathered the beginning of a core group, they and their families should be enlisted in joining the church starter and his family in a number of these activities. This is a part of core-group development. The church starter should not wait until he has a large group of people before enlisting their participation in volunteer activities. Involving the core-group in volunteer activities even in its earliest stages establishes a culture of mission and service in the new church from the very outset.

A critical task of the church starter at the core-group gathering stage of a new church start is firmly establishing in the mind of each new core group member that gathering the core group is a team effort, not his responsibility alone. Each person who becomes a member of the core group shares responsibility for gathering additional members of the new church’s nucleus.

Murray, Kentucky has an annual Ice Cream Festival on the first Saturday of September. Volunteers from the Journey help to man the booths and to assist in other capacities. This gives them an opportunity to meet people and it gives people an opportunity to meet them. The Journey also presents a mini-version of Kidstuf, now Xceler8, throughout the day. It features singing, dancing, and a dramatization that teaches and reinforces a particular moral value, and is targeted at elementary school and middle school kids and their families. The Journey and the city-county park commission join in sponsoring Trail of Treats, which is held every year shortly before Halloween. Trail of Treats includes best costume contests, prizes, face painting, and other fun activities as well as candy treats for Halloween trick or treaters. Volunteering for such annual events is a good way of establishing a positive public image for a church, as well as making contacts.

A new church start even in the core-group gathering stage can initiate short-term community service projects and invite members of the community to take part in these projects. This can be an effective way of meeting people and building bridges to the community. It is important for the church starter to invite people to his home and accept invitations to their homes. The focus should be upon forming friendships. Some of the church starter’s new friends may eventually become a part of the core group. Some may not. However, the church starter may, through them, be introduced to members of their social relationship network and may be able to recruit new core group members from that network or from the social relationship networks of the people in that network.

It is important that the church starter remember that he is Christ’s ambassador and representative and practice the discipline of listening to people, of letting them do the talking. His goal is not to convince them of the wrongness of their opinions or the rightness of his own opinions. It is to foster good will, openness, and trust. It is to establish new relationships and to invest in them. He is also setting an example for existing and potential core-group members and modeling for them how they should relate to people. He must live the dictum “make a friend, be a friend.”

This season of the year also provides great opportunities for service evangelism—simple acts of kindness intended to show God’s love. They include raking and bagging leaves, shoveling snow off driveways, paths, and sidewalks, watching small children while their mother does Christmas shopping, and that sort of thing.
The months of September, October, November, and December form a time of the year that is also marked by a number of seasonal celebrations—Halloween, Thanksgiving, and of course, Christmas. A community may have its own particular celebrations such as Harvest Home and October Fest. It is a time of year for all kinds of get-togethers.

The church starter may wish to invite friends and neighbors and their children and grandchildren to a Halloween party in his home. They can be invited to bring another family that they know. A lot of parents and grandparents would prefer to take their children to a Halloween party than trick or treating. It is safer and can be a lot of fun for the whole family. The kids can be introduced to such old-fashioned Halloween fun as bobbing for apples, and their parents and grandparents to such traditional Halloween treats as Barmbrack—a classic Irish spicy fruit bread.

While Guy Forkes Day is not celebrated in North America, the night of November the Fifth still may be a good night for a bonfire in some areas. If children are present, the church starter will want to make some simple rules for their safety and their parents or grandparents’ ease of mind. Children toasting marshmallows in the fire should be closely supervised. The space around the bonfire should be free from flammables that might be ignited by a flying spark from the bonfire. The church starter may wish to keep a bucket or two of water or a garden hose near at hand.

Inviting a new neighbor or co-worker to Thanksgiving Dinner or Christmas Dinner especially if they are single, separated, or divorced and have no family in the community is another way that a church starter can expand his social circle. Other possibilities are:

• Invite friends and neighbors and their families to his home for hot apple cider and other seasonal treats such as mince pies and sausage rolls. Invite them to bring another family with them.

• Invite friends and neighbors and their families to go Christmas caroling. Begin the evening with a chili supper and end it with hot chocolate. Tell them that they can bring guests with them.

• Invite them to a skating party at the local skating rink. Let them know that the invitation extends to their children or grandchildren’s friends and families and anyone else who might enjoy the fun.

Three things are critical to success in gathering the core-group of a new church. They are:

• Willingness on the church starter’s part to move out of his comfort zone, to meet people who do not share his faith, and to befriend them.
• Willingness to open his home to those outside his existing social circle, to show hospitality to them, and importantly to accept invitations to the homes of outsiders and to share their hospitality.
• Full support of his spouse. The importance of spousal support cannot be underestimated. It is crucial. It can make the difference between success and failure.

Eating together also plays a vital role in the new church start in its early stages of development. It plays a similar role in the small membership church, the house church fellowship, and the home cell (or small group) at all stages of its life. It is essential to building and maintaining a sense of community, of being a body of people that has a common life together. The two most common shared activities in a small membership church are worship and eating. My observation has been that home cell meetings that involve food are generally more successful than those who do not. Whether a simple meal or light snack, it facilitates the bonding of the group and other positive small group dynamics. The act of eating together, of sharing food, causes a subconscious shift in group participants’ perception of each other and their relationship to each other. It may be very primal, harkening back to a time when humanity lived as wandering hunter-gatherers in small tightly knit family and kinship groups whose members were dependent upon each other for survival. Having met a basic physical need, the group participants are also more open to addressing their spiritual needs.

In future articles I will be taking a further look at the nuts and bolts of gathering and developing a core group for a new church.

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