September 2015


Getting your church out into your community can seem like a Big Deal, especially if you’re doing it for the first time. Between rustling up new volunteers, squeezing out extra money in the budget, and wrangling all the people who will complain that “we’ve never done it that way before”, it can oftentimes seem like more trouble than it’s worth; especially when it sometimes takes years of consistent effort before your church will see results.

I’d like to offer you a way to start connecting with your community that’s easy and simple: no ad council meetings, new budget line items, or hand-holding required. All you have to do is follow a very simple rule: start with something that takes less than five people, takes less than five hours, and costs less than fifty dollars. (Because, in almost any church, you can always five people, five hours, and fifty dollars for something new.)

Don’t know where to start? Here are five ideas.

  1. Does your city have quarter-eating metered parking downtown? Get a truly insane number of quarters and drop them all over the downtown. Pay up people’s parking, leave them on people’s windshields, and occasionally leave a note saying, “You are loved.”
  2. Where do people who are homeless gather in your community? Find that park (or parking lot), buy a few dozen donuts and a gallon of coffee, and hang out with them on a Saturday morning.
  3. Contact your local family homeless shelter.  Make homemade cards with messages of appreciation and encouragement, and send them to the residents along with cookies (even store bought are fine) and flowers.
  4. Talk to a receptive school guidance counselor and find out what their poorest students need most. (It may be books, backpacks, or food for the weekend). Put together care packages for the students. Pray for the children whose lives you will be blessing.
  5. Don’t know much about your community? Find the local gathering spot (restaurant, cafe, gas station), and hang out there for a couple hours. Buy coffee for the next person behind you in line, and watch who comes in and out for a couple hours. Afterwards, use what you see as an opportunity for prayer.

Your Turn! What other 5/5/50 ideas do you have?


It’s no secret that I think that community game nights are an amazing way for churches to get out of their doors and connect with their communities. Even better, they take almost no time, no money, and no expertise to get going!

Interested in starting one yourself? Here are a few simple tips:

1) You don’t need to be a geek to play board games.

Don’t worry if terms like “deck-building mechanics” or “meeple” sound as foreign to you as “chancel” or “liturgy” might sound to a newcomer to your church. Gamers love to teach. If you’re willing to learn, people will delight in helping you grow into your geekdom.

2) Don’t start a Game Night if you can just join one.

Why spend the money or take all the energy to meet gamers if there’s already a meetup going on? Check your local gaming store or visit to see if there’s a gathering in your area. When you visit, you’ll be in a location where people are already comfortable and open to newcomers.

3) If you start a game night, make it as un-churchy as possible.

Sometimes starting your own game night is the best option. If you do so, DO NOT start it in your church building. Find a spot in the community such as a cafe, a restaurant with a back room, or your local library and hold it there.  Start with a couple friends, advertise with a few posters, put up an event on, and be patient as the gathering grows. And, for the love of Jesus, DO NOT play Christian games at it. There is nothing more obnoxious and insidery than a bunch of Christians starting a game night which requires insider knowledge (and allegiance to a belief system) in order to play.

4) Community will just happen.

Don’t feel like you need to invite people to your church, share about your faith, or advertise your ministries at game night. Just make friends, share authentically, and the opportunities will to form spiritual community with people will naturally emerge.

church refugeesChurch Refugees

Josh Packard and Ashleigh Hope

  In One Hundred Words: Two sociologists study the Dones: people who are walking away from church, often after a lifetime of commitment.  They examine the reasons why the Dones left, (e.g. judgmentalism, bureaucracy, inflexible doctrine, lack of meaningful ministry), how their exit is a result of their commitment to their faith, and what churches can do to bring them back.

  Who Should Read It: Lifelong church people – both laity and pastors.

  How Long?: A very easy, not-at-all-technical 140 pages.


 Josh Packard and Ashleigh Hope are not radical firebrands. They are restrained sociologists. They open the book with a detailed explanation of their methodology. They are highly respectful of their subjects, letting them speak in their own words as much as possible. They are careful not to draw sweeping conclusions.

All of this makes the picture they paint in Church Refugees that much more surprising and disturbing. The book is the product of hundreds of interviews with the “dechurched” or the “dones”, people who “make explicit and intentional decisions to leave the church and organized religion.” (14)  They reveals that the dones are not the people many of us thought they were. These are not those who left because the pastor started using too much contemporary music or because their favorite knitting circle shut down. These are not the perennial church-hoppers, who change communities like other people change socks. The dones are deeply committed Christians: people who gave the institution their all ,often for decades, and who left because of their faith.

Church Refugees explores what caused the dones to make that decision. It groups their reasons into four chapters. First is “Community and Judgment”, which explores the dones’ deep desire to experience authentic, non-judgmental spiritual community. Second is “Activity and Bureaucracy” which describes the way that church structure actively prevented the dones from living out their calling. Third is “Conversation and Doctrine” which details the done’s desire to have meaningful, honest, open conversations about faith and life where there isn’t an orthodoxy that everyone has to unthinkingly adhere to. Finally is “Meaningful Ministry and Moral Prescription” which shares how the dones’ experience that the church was more concerned with “policing personal morality” than healing society, especially in regards to poverty.

The stories are often heartbreaking. Among them is Kate, a passionate, extremely gifted Christian who wanted to start an art-therapy after school program.

At first, she was hoping for some support from her congregation for supplies and materials, but eventually asked simply for space to meet….The church council took a vote, and, on the pastor’s recommendation, decided not to support the work she was doing because the kids weren’t members of the church and might not even be Christians…Eventually, Katie decided to start the organization as a non-profit, and ultimately left her congregation. [She says] ‘It just got to the point that it was so painfully obvious to me that the art therapy was making more of a real impact in the world, and was feeding me more spiritually as a group of people committed to relationships than my home congregation had ever done. (58-59)

As a church person, this book is a hard mirror to look into. Any long-time church person recognizes this behavior. Truth be told, we often perpetuated it. We tell jokes about it,[1] excuse it as inevitable,[2] and even actively defend it.[3] It’s become normal.

All those ugly stories that we sweep under the carpet? In this book, we hear all of them and are reminded that our justifications leaves bodies behind.

In the final chapters, the authors make the obligatory pivot to suggesting what can be changed to get the dones to come back (or never become done at all.) Their suggestions, taken in isolation, are good, such as undermining bureaucracy by putting end dates of programs or staff responsibilities that would otherwise exist forever, or using asset-based community organizing to empower people to use their gifts. However, in doing so, they sidestep the elephant-sized ecclesial question that their study raises:

What if the dones are right?

What if much of what we call church is just a highly efficient way for us to hide from God?

What if the vast time and energy that we spend in maintaining our institutional structures is not really about faithfulness, but about choosing to leave hungry people unfed, naked people unclothed, sick and imprisoned people unvisited?[4]

What if the dones are leaving, not because they’re burnt out on church, but because they’re brave enough to search for a true expression of church outside of the institution?

Perhaps the dones have not left the church, perhaps it is us institutionalists who have left the church, maybe even generations ago, and just never realized it.

In the end, the book left me wondering, do we really need to engage with the dones to get them back, or should we just follow them out into the future?

Then again, maybe that’s a rabbit hole too terrifying to jump into.



[1] How many Methodists does it take to change a light bulb? One to change the light bulb, and three committees to approve the change and decide who brings the potato salad and covered dishes.

[2] “Of course the church isn’t perfect, it’s made of people!”

[3] “We have to do it this way, it’s what the Book of Discipline requires and we are a connectional church who practices covenantal accountability!”

[4] See: Matthew 25:31-46. Jesus doesn’t say much about worship services, committee meetings, or denominational gatherings.

The best way to learn how to write is not to read books about writing, it’s to actually write.

The best way to learn how to forgive others is not to attend a class on forgiveness, it’s to actually forgive someone who has hurt you.

The best way to learn about those who are poor is not to read your favorite social justice blog or book, it’s to actually make friends with people who are poor.

The best parts of life are not like bugs that you can stick on a pin and learn from by watching them squirm.

The best parts of life only make sense when they are lived from the inside out.

Where are you looking to grow? What dream, small or large, are you holding close right now?

I have a suggestion for you:

Don’t reflect.

Don’t take another class.

Don’t read another book.

Do it and see what happens.

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