Leading from the 2nd Chair

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Location.Location.Location

7/1/2014

Location. Location. Location.  

This, the slogan of realtors everywhere. And we know it’s true. We want our houses in specific locations that have great school systems and safe neighborhoods. We want the Target parking spot closest to the door (but not next to the cart return). 

It’s all about location.  Even in the church. We pray our churches are in locations that reflect our the community to which we are trying to reach.  We carve out spaces within our walls that work best for our teens, our children, our senior adults, etc.  Even our building is a landmark/location identifier for many. When people ask where my church is, I tell them we are located just off the beltway.  The majority of time they respond, “Oh. You’re the church with the huge playground that you can see from the road. I know exactly where you are.”

Location… (and a ginormous playground).

But what if our best location isn’t our location?  I have been learning a valuable lesson over the past year. Let me paint the picture for you.

Each spring, our church hosts an Easter event for kids. It’s typically a flashlight egg hunt at night. It’s organized by the Children’s Ministry, but it is an entire church effort. We send out about 6,000 flyers to elementary schools within a five mile radius of our church. We will typically have about 30 volunteers that will help out with our live show (games, live music, skits, etc., to keep kids excited while the sun is going down).  And we have been mildly successful in the past. Over the past two years, we’ve averaged about 350 at the event (almost 600% increase over our normal kid count).

Well, as is often the case, events tend to run their course. We were having a difficult time getting volunteers. Our candy donations had dropped by almost 50%. We weren’t sure if the community was finished with our event, but it seemed that our church was growing weary of hosting the event.  There were talks about letting it go, sending it out to pasture, giving our church a break. The phrase that was frequently thrown about was, “Maybe it’s just run its course.”

After a lot of prayer, the decision was made to give it one more year, but things would be different. Our focus would need to change.  In the past, the goal was to get people onto our campus, hoping that they would want to return for a Sunday visit. That makes sense, right? It was a simple outreach with the goal of bringing people into the church.  We could say we tried to reach people, pat our selves on the back, and then go back to life as normal.

But our Children’s leadership team began to ask different questions. What if our focus was less on getting people into church on Sunday and more on simply providing a service for our community?  What if we could become the “friendly” church, the “serving” church? What if we had an event and never even promoted our church overtly through announcements, flyers, or other typical ways? Would we be seen as wasting an opportunity if we chose not to elevate our church?

We began asking:  What if we simply served?  What would that look like? Would it look more exciting than our “regular” event? Were we okay hosting an event where people might leave never knowing we were responsible for it? What would the community want? We knew what we were giving them, but did they even want that? What would compel the families around our church to participate?

And then it hit us.  We were providing a service that even our own church community was getting tired of. If we were no longer interested, why would anyone else be?

And that was the catalyst that drove our church to consider a “new normal.” We decided to leave our church campus and go to our local neighborhood that had a gazebo, lake, and plenty of open space.  

Against the wishes of many, we decided that promoting ourselves felt too much like bait-and-switch, so we would simply go to the community and served them. We wore church shirts to identify who was helping, but that is all. We simply invaded the community and loved them.

And the response was overwhelming. We anticipated a smaller crowd because of the location change. Instead, we had over 800 people show up (almost two and a half times the attendance we normally had when held at our location). Where we once used a few dozen helpers, we had 105 people from our church volunteer (and a local teen organization heard about the event and sent 17 teen volunteers) — cooking food, playing games, handing out candy, supervising blow-up events, taking spring pictures, and just hanging out. 25% of our church was SERVING at one event!

It can be so scary to step out and serve simply because for the sake of serving. We often feel that not giving our church address and service hours is a disservice to God. But acts of service are noticed. Ironically, we have had more people visit our church because we left the campus than we ever had when we invited visitors to our campus. Being willing to go to the community made our community much more willing to come to us.

It’s about going to where our neighbors are. It’s about leaving the safety of our campus and actually being visible in the community. We can no longer accept the “we’ll love them when they visit us” mentality. The Kingdom of God demands better from us.

So, as it turns out, one of the times when our church was most noticeably “the church” was when we were somewhere else.

Location. Location. Location.

-Gerron Showalter serves as the Children's Pastor at Houston First Church of the Nazarene in Houston, TX.