They have such great stories and they can’t wait to tell them. The more I listen, the more I learn.
We all know the value of hanging out with people who share our heart, don’t we? If we’re honest, most of us who attend ministerial conferences go at least as much for the hangout time in the hallway as for the worship and teaching in the main room.
So why wouldn’t we expect that the people who come to our churches are looking for the same things we are? And why not allow them the space to do that?
As I hang out with my fellow Small Church leaders, I’m seeing that many of the most innovative ones recognize that need and try to meet it. It’s one of a few patterns I see emerging. Patterns that tell me something about what many innovative Small Churches have in common.
Innovative Small Churches have discovered that hanging out is holy. And they make it a priority. You may be more comfortable with the term “fellowship” instead of “hanging out” and that’s fine. That we do it matters far more than what we call it.
I prefer the term “hanging out” because if most people were given the option of attending a church fellowship function or hanging out with their friends… well, the choice is obvious.
Healthy Small Churches Plan For It
If hanging out is holy, we have to be intentional about it. And I’ve noticed that many healthy Small Churches do that by making it a core part of the most important event they have – the Sunday worship service.
I’ve met with pastors whose churches start their Sunday worship experience with a hangout time, some who end with it, and others, like my church, who plant it right in the middle of the Sunday worship service.
One of the most intentional churches about this is Bull City Vineyard in Durham, North Carolina (See update, below). Last week I had coffee with their pastor, Maggie Mraz, and she told me about their Sunday morning schedule.
- 9am: Church doors open
- 9:30 – 10am: Prayer
- 11am: Church service starts with worship
- 12:15pm: Church ends because the nearby soup kitchen starts serving lunch
- 2pm: They close the doors and go home
OK, some people may ask, I get what they’re doing in the church building from 9:30-10am and from 11am-12:15pm, but what’s going on the rest of the five hours their doors are open?
They’re hanging out, that’s what. They’re chatting, shooting the breeze, fellowshipping… Call it what you want, but I call it being the church, and I think that’s what Jesus calls it, too.
During the week the church building, which is a storefront in downtown Durham, has regular hours when they open their doors and encourage people to “Stop in and say hello, sit in quiet, pray, surf the net, rest, watch people out the window, enjoy healthy conversation, eat a PB&J, read the bible together, practice the guitar or enjoy a cup of coffee.”
If you go to their website, you’ll see they have other hangout opportunities, including art nights and open mic nights. One of the key features you’ll find on their website is a slide show featuring the people of the church…you guessed it…hanging out with each other. That’s where the fun photo on the right comes from. I dare you to glance through that slide show of friendly, smiling faces and not think “I would go to that church if I lived in Durham!”
(Update: As of Christmas Day 2013, Bull City Vineyard went on hiatus due to circumstances I can’t disclose. At this point, there do not appear to be plans to relaunch the church.)
Hanging Out Is Not a Magic Bullet
No, a planned time to hang out on Sunday morning isn’t for every church. Nothing but Jesus is for everyone.
So if you don’t have a hangout time scheduled into your Sunday schedule, relax. Patterns aren’t rules. And they’re not a magic bullet either. Not having a hangout time like I’ve described doesn’t mean you’re not a healthy church. And if a church isn’t healthy, adding a coffee bar won’t make it so. We all need some form of fellowship, but we all have to find our own way to do it.
But let’s not let one of the great advantages of being small slip through our fingers. Of the five essential factors of a healthy church (Worship, Discipleship, Evangelism, Fellowship and Ministry) fellowship is the one where a Small Church can most naturally shine.
Innovative Small Churches know this truth. Dying Small Churches have forgotten it. We need to be more intentional about using this asset of smallness to its full advantage.
It’s not that hanging out needs to be hyper-planned. That’s probably the surest way to kill it. And it’s another good reason to use a term like hanging out instead of fellowship – it makes us less tempted to control it.
The good news is, it doesn’t take a lot of brainpower or planning to be intentional about hanging out. Just give it a chance to breathe by giving people some time to be together without an agenda while they’re at church.
A time and a place is all we need.
We need to stop over-programming our church services. Give the Holy Spirit some cracks he can squeeze through. Pauses and places where we can be together in his presence.
And pastors, don’t just open it up for them. Don’t be in charge of it. Enter into it yourself. What you’ve been looking for in the minister’s conference hallway may be as close as your own church’s hallway.
Allow your home church to be your home church, too.
Who knows? If we loosen our grip, God may tighten his.
So what do you think? Do you have any other ideas about the value of hanging out and how Small Churches can prioritize it better?
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