Tuesday, October 7, 2014
Focus the friendship outwards
Speen churchyard – a place of beauty and peace – and a place of interaction and friendship with those who visit regularly
MANY SURVEYS have agreed that people who have become Christians from non-Christian backgrounds overwhelmingly report that a friend who brought them to a Christian event of some kind was the starting point of their journey. Getting on for three-quarters of them say this. So networking and friendship-building is not an extra option, but rather the main imperative.
However, we need some strategy in this. Just being friendly in a disconnected way can be quite off-putting in our culture. And a fellowship which considers itself a very loving fellowship can in that closeness present barriers for those who already know that they are outsiders.
All relationships are made in the context of something else – a common interest or affinity or situation. Most, although not all, are outside the church environment. They will reflect where we, and others, spend our time and therefore meet people – around the streets and villages where we live, the ‘up’ platform at Great Missenden, the gym, pub or cycling club or the after-work drink before heading home.
The focus at this point is not reaping, or keeping, but the beginning part of Sowing (Laurence Singlehurst calls it Sowing 1). This is about people simply understanding that “God is good and we are OK”. For the people around us, neither of these things may be assumed. They have met controlling vicars and fractious church members and carry with them echoes of a more negative pulpit style which told people that they were sinners in the house of a holy God. So they have experienced some truth without love, they have probably met religious people who are over-intense or just have a judgmental kind of stance – who among us has not done this at some time? – and they wonder how God can look on while atrocities are reported daily on news bulletins.
The ‘Sowing 2’ connections which introduce, gradually, some content of the gospel come later. But for now, at this early point, people need to know that Christians who know and love Jesus are OK people to be around – the real deal. And the God they seem to know is also loving and involved in their world.
We’ll go on to explore where we build those friendships, but even if content is not immediately in view, church may be one of those places of interaction. It can be a place of non-threatening common interest, especially if the building offers everyday attractions such as a cafe environment or a bookstall or hosts clubs – or, like ours, is set in a beautiful and well-kept graveyard which is itself a place of peace.