by Fr. Jim Fosdick
In the great commission, Jesus directs us to take the gospel message out into the world. One way to do so is to go out into the community and reach people who have any number of reasons for not attending a traditional church service. In April 2013 we began offering a non-traditional service “My Kind of Church” in a local coffee shop called Eagle River Roasters. Three years later we’re still meeting. Here are some of the nuts and bolts of how we do it.
First, buy we found a local coffee shop that was willing to have us meet there after they closed. The owner is a Christian who really walks the walk. He lets us use it for free and even leaves us free coffee and his leftover scones and cinnamon rolls if he has any. Big help. I think finding a coffee shop as opposed to trying to do it in another venue is good if you can. It’s easier for the unchurched and the formerly churched to drop in to a coffee shop where they can also leave if they feel like it.
In the beginning, sales I recruited musicians. We began with a really capable keyboard player. She also sings. Her husband plays guitar. They have their own sound system. Sometimes we have had a second guitar player who can also sing. From time to time we have had 3 other musicians who have played. We have even used YouTube videos with contemporary music and lyrics projected on the screen. Live music is best if you can. They are all volunteers. Don’t get hung up on the musicians. One competent guitar player who can lead the singing would be workable. I think the sound system is fairly important. It makes it possible to be heard even though no one sits up front (just like a traditional church).
The next thing we do is maybe the most important of all. The musicians and I get together and pray. I usually do the praying but others chime in. We pray that the Holy Spirit would protect from the enemy our team and everyone who attends. We pray that the Holy Spirit would fill us. We pray that the Holy Spirit would guide us and empower us. I pray that every word I speak would be from God and pleasing to Him. We pray that everything we do would glorify God. The prayer is not fixed, we just go wherever the prayer leads us.
When we’re ready to go I MC and sort of lay out for everyone what’s going to happen. I welcome people. I kind of run down the concerns listed in the ad. I make light of them. I say something like, “If you don’t like organized religion you will love this because we’re totally disorganized.” I say something like “if you don’t go to church because they never talk about anything you care about that won’t happen tonight.” I say, “if we don’t talk about subjects you care about it will be because you didn’t write it down on a card.” I point out there are cards and pens on the table and they can write down a scripture, a subject or a question they’d like me to preach about.
Then I give them sort of a schedule of how the evening may unfold. I say “may unfold” because we really do try to let the Holy Spirit dictate where the emphasis is on any given night. I say we think we’re going to start with some music that people are welcome to sing along with. By the way, we started with having the lyrics on the screen, but the operator always seemed to be off, and sometimes the musicians want to repeat a chorus or verse. So now we hand out song sheets with the 5-6 songs we plan to sing. Sometimes the lead singer will sing a solo accompanied by the guitars.
I tell people that after singing I have a video to show. I tell them what it’s about and that it’s meant to get us to start talking with each other about a faith-related topic. I mostly use the SkitGuys (http://skitguys.com/videos/). Take a look at their videos entitled Baggage, Trash, and Grace to get an idea. I’ve also used Sermon Spice. Recently we’ve been trying Lifetree Café videos. I look for 3-5 minute videos. On a couple occasions, I used longer ones. I spend a couple hours every week watching videos and praying about what to use. There are a lot to choose from. I have prepared by watching the selected video 3 or 4 times and taking notes on a 3×5 card. My notes are questions to get them talking about the video. I don’t start with the notes. I start with, “So, what do you think? What jumped out at you from the video? Did it relate to anything in your life? Do you want to share it with us? If no one comes up with anything I ask questions from my notes. The video is disarming. Everyone is comfortable watching TV or a movie. They don’t see the theological issues coming. It’s like the warm up band at a concert.
Then someone collects all the cards on which people have been encouraged to write sermon suggestions. Sometimes we get a lot and I don’t get through them all. I tell people I’m going to keep the cards and if we didn’t get to your sermon suggestion tonight we’ll get to it next week.
So now I have the cards. I tried in the early days to build in time for me to look at the cards and think of related scriptures. It just didn’t work. I was frantically looking through the cards and felt like I needed to move on so I could read them all before I really came up with an idea for the first card. It really just created unnecessary pressure. I learned to trust the Holy Spirit, my own faith, and my education in that order. I also adopted a technique of helping the “members” learn how to examine theological questions by taking them apart a word or phrase at a time. So for example when the question was “Was the good thief on the cross next to Jesus the first person resurrected?” I started with why is the good thief called the good thief (because he confessed his belief in Jesus) and then What would be necessary for anyone to be resurrected (Jesus would have to have died on the cross for his sins). Etc.
I get through as many of the topics as possible. Generally, people want me to keep going. When we get to 2 hours (total from the beginning of the service) though I move to the next part of the service. In the beginning you might want to make it shorter—say an hour to an hour and 15 minutes. Ask them if they want you to move on to prayer time and assess what the consensus is. You want to leave them wanting more, not praying you’ll stop. You also want time to pray with people.
At this point I invite the band back up to play background music. I tell people if the music and the video and the preaching have drawn you to want to be a follower of Jesus I’m going to be over in a particular part of the coffee shop (behind the members) and I will lead you in prayer and today can be the day of salvation for you. Then I say if you would like prayer for yourself or for someone else, come back to the back and I’ll pray with you. I usually tell them at this point about someone from a couple weeks ago who came for prayer and God answered the prayer. I tell them we can pray for healing of a health issue, for healing of a relationship, for a job, or even for healing a memory that is still painful. Then the band plays and I pray and everyone else seems to mill around talking to each other. Sometimes I end up having to kick people out so we can lock up and go home. I have sometimes pulled out of the parking lot and people are still talking in the parking lot (in the winter no less).
At the request of the members, we have changed the name to Our Kind of Church. Several said they think we’re a community and “My kind” sounds selfish. For over two years now we’ve been doing some outreach as a community. Three years running now we’ve taken our service to a nursing home at Christmas. Our Kind of Church has joined the parishioners of St. Mary’s (my church) for Fantastic Friday Fellowship Fish Fry evenings at a local restaurant. We’ve also combined the two groups for Friday Dinner and a Movie. Some of the Our Kind ofChurch “members” have asked about outreach ministries at the Rock Community Mission Center (part of St. Mary’s) and are now workers in the Needs Ministry (our clothing ministry for the poor). Attendance varies from as many as 25 to 7 or 8. Numbers don’t matter. It’s all good. We have had unchurched or dechurched people come back to our non-traditional service and eventually attend services on Sunday. Some even attend both Friday night and Sunday Morning. The top four things that make it worthwhile are—
- People have become followers of Jesus.
- People have found Christian fellowship and have been supported in time of need.
- People have been healed as a result of prayer.
- People have begun or returned to traditional church attendance.
That’s all I can think of as far as how we do it. You’ll have to adapt to your own local situation. My last advice (like my first advice) is pray. Pray every step of the way and listen for God’s answers. Then be prepared to be amazed at what He does.