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Saturday, May 19, 2012

1 of 1001 new worshiping communities?

So, mission leaders in my denomination have cast a vision for 1001 new worshiping communities in the next ten years.  At a conference this past winter, one of the speakers said something like, "If we really understood what it means to reach beyond our walls and share the gospel (and broaden our definition of "worshiping community" beyond a new church building), this would be no problem at all; we'd have 10,001 new worshiping communities!"

That comment got me thinking about our Wednesday Night Experiment, particularly the group I have been a part of, and I thought, "Well, if we aren't there yet, we're getting pretty darn close!"  So, I wanted to share and reflect briefly on one of our several groups going outside the walls on Wednesday nights.

After a potluck dinner about 6:15pm every Wednesday night, I jump in my car and drive two blocks to the corner Caribou coffee shop.  It's the go-to coffee shop for the extended neighborhoods around our church and day or night there are always neighbors to be found.  For three years now, Jim Terrell and I (with an array of guests) have been playing bluegrass music from 7-8pm (how that started for us here).  Three years in, we recognize almost all of the folks showing up. 

When we arrive, there might be anywhere from 2-10 patrons in the store.  By 8pm when we wind down, there are as many as 3-4 musicians, 8-10 church members, and 15-25 patrons who come regularly for the music.  The store has put up a sign advertising the live music and each week we seem to get the regulars and a few new folks. We know the baristas by name - indeed, several have become good friends.  We know most of the regulars and have had the opportunity to learn their stories: a school teacher who likes to come grade papers and listen; a retired couple who haven't been in church in a while, but who love "the Good Shepherd people"; a Catholic mom who brings her two daughters every week for hot chocolate and the music; the owners of the music store next door sometimes drop in; and many more.  Our church folks also know most of these folks - that has been organic, not a "hunt them down and evangelize them" strategy, but a "hey, I saw you last week" kind of slowly growing friendship.

The buzz in the neighborhood has also grown slowly, because a lot of these same coffee-drinking, bluegrass-singing Presbyterians also volunteer when the neighborhood elementary school has a workday or open up our church for neighborhood association meetings or for girl scout troops to meet.  What kind of amazing word of mouth is it when I ask a visitor how they heard about our church and they tell me that someone at the coffee shop (who doesn't attend our church!) suggested they try Good Shepherd?!

Would I call it a church or a worshiping community?  Probably not a church, but certainly an example of some Presbyterians BEING the church.  Maybe not technically a worshiping community, but I tell you when we throw in an old gospel tune like "I'll Fly Away" and you hear all those voices join in - voices of Presbyterians, agnostics,  Catholics, retired, preschool, teenaged, and the other assortment of people that wander into a coffee shop on a Wednesday night - all singing along, even harmonizing... man, it sure sounds like a worshiping community to my ears. 

Maybe 1001 isn't such an impossible sounding goal after all!  :)


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