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Extending the Porchfront Welcome of Church

August 8, 2016

What sort of welcome do we express to those outside of our church and outside of the body of Christ?  We may think that by announcing “All are welcome” people ought to be rushing through the doors to join our worship of Jesus and family of faith.  If they don’t, we are inclined to think that there is something wrong with them.

But can you imagine a person who grew up in a broken family or a person who has lost their family and who is lonely and in need of companionship, parenting and brotherly love walking up to an attractive house in a comfortable neighborhood where a family seems to live in peace and love and then knocking on the door, opening it and walking into the living room, family room and then the kitchen and sitting down at the dining table to enjoy the meal along with the family?  It is preposterous.  It doesn’t happen.  As families and homeowners, we don’t want it to happen, and we lock doors and keep an eye out to make sure it doesn’t happen.  Our expectations that someone in need would overcome our home protectiveness, the social awkwardness, our tribalism and the challenge of finding a loving home and coming and sitting down at our table to eat is about on par with how a church often treats welcoming visitors.  The result is that it rarely happens, and when it does we might be a bit surprised.  In reality, from the perspective of the outsider and non-church goer, our welcome may be as inviting as the welcome sign on the door in the picture below.  The outsider might wonder “Hmmm.  How does this work? What’s going on there?”  They might have heard that “it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God,” so they are not going to risk it.  They choose to stay away.

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Without the conscious intention of it happening, our churches might seem difficult to approach like a home in a private community or one without an open porch rather than a home in a “front porch” community.  Ambridge, PA, where we lived while I attended Trinity School for Ministry for over two years billed itself as a front porch community.  Even though it was far passed its prime.  The homes in Ambridge were built close to the neighborhood streets with front porches equal to the width of the house.  The pattern of the town and style of the homes contributed to relationships and neighborliness.  If you sat on the porch, you would see your neighbors and interact with them.

Church of the Redeemer’s physical porch is far off.  We are not in a neighborhood.  People don’t walk by and interact with the church.  I am thankful that we do have some geographic neighbors active in our church, but we have few who live in proximity to our location.  Most people drive a while to come to Redeemer.   We could sit on our church porch all day and not interact with our neighbors.  However, the porch is still relevant and a necessary step to welcoming people into our lives—at home and at church.  The porch still becomes the real and figurative place where people meet, shake hands and talk comfortably about things like the weather, kids, sports and politics.  Those porch conversations lead to the fellowship at the table that leads to the relationships that change lives.  We know that when people come in they experience the hospitality and love of the Lord just like they would if they walked up and sat down at our family’s table with us.  Those who are lost from Jesus just don’t know they can do it or why they should.

As a church, we need to extend the welcome of our porch further into our neighbor’s lives.  Together as a family of faith, we experience the treasures of the kingdom of heaven every time we gather at our church.  God is present with us.  He works among us to produce his fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, gentleness, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, patience and self-control.  When we gather together at our church, God works to transform us.  His Spirit works among us in power and love.  This is a supernatural reality that we experience, and God wants us to share all that he does and invite people into his presence and into our lives.  I know that each time I enter Church of the Redeemer, God is present and invited to express himself however he wants.  I know that anytime I am in the building, God is likely to speak and manifest himself to me and others.  People outside of the church have no idea that sort of dynamic happens among us.

Every new person that enters God’s kingdom or that becomes a part of our parish family of faith brings new gifts and a new dimension of God’s treasures among us.  I am thankful for every person God leads to worship at our church and participate in our ministries.  We are each an integral part of Christ’s body and add to his body.  As the Anglican Divine, John Donne wrote: “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main.”  We are blessed by every person coming to Christ among us.

I think when we start telling a non-church goer about church and speaking in churchy language their reaction is something like an author describes a common reaction by us when we hear about some new technology: “I don’t understand it. I don’t need it. I don’t like it. You’re scaring me.”  When we extend the porch of our church and our welcome to someone, we can start with why we would hope they might come to church.  Reasons like Jesus gives us peace.  Jesus heals us in many ways.  Wherever God’s Spirit is there is freedom.  As a church, we try to love as Jesus loves.  You can come and experience God’s presence.  Jesus removes guilt and shame.  God hears our prayers, and we pray for one another.  All of these are true.  The greatest truth we can share is that Jesus gives us eternal life, and we can live in the promise of his kingdom today.  Perhaps we have come to take these treasures for granted and think they are no big deal.  The truth is that this is the biggest deal in the universe.  We cannot keep it to ourselves or keep to ourselves the wonder of how God works among us.

An Ambridge Porch with Friends from Seminary

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Look at the way God worked in the early church.  On one hand, people outside the community of believers respected them, but on the other hand, people were uneasy about joining them.  Yet, people were added to their number daily.  It seems like a contradiction.

“Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles. And they were all together in Solomon’s Portico.  None of the rest dared join them, but the people held them in high esteem.  And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women,  so that they even carried out the sick into the streets and laid them on cots and mats, that as Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on some of them.  The people also gathered from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing the sick and those afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all healed.” Acts 5:12-16

The church was meeting on the “porch,” and nobody “dared join them.”  It seems that the believers must have taken that porch out to where the people were and reached out their hands to walk them into their midst where miracles occurred.  Through the outreached hands of the believers, more and more people were healed, freed and saved.

Each one of us can be the figurative porch of our church extending the love of Jesus and our faith out into the community.  Through our porchfront conversation and handshakes, we can lead people comfortably into the hospitality of the Lord’s Table and family.  We can let them know there is nothing to fear, and they don’t have to be alone.  We can let them know where God is and how to enter his love.  We can let them know that we’ll be there with them, too.

Let’s build porches of welcome!

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