This summer we started a new ministry: a Wednesday all-day program for children. The children come for fun and games and Bible stories and crafts. At the end of the day we invite everyone to stay for a picnic on our front lawn, culminating in an informal church service on our front lawn, which we have nicknamed 'Picnic Church."
Picnic church has been pretty successful for us. Not all of the children stay for supper every week, but we have had a good mix of people from our own congregation and people from our neighborhood. Some of them just come for the picnic, of course; others have stayed for church, but I haven't seen them again. A few have come every week, and we've gotten to know their names.
For me, one of the things I love is that when someone comes in for a gas voucher, I can give the letter, tell them about the local food shelf, and then invite them to Picnic Church.
I have been wondering what made Picnic Church successful where other attempts at evangelism have fallen flat. I have supposed that it had something to do with the informality of the outdoors and the atmosphere. I have hazarded the guess that there is an addictive substance in grilled hamburgers and hot dogs that beckons people to come.
But, in the end, I decided that it has something to do with doors.
Or specifically, it has to do with the fact that there are no doors on the Picnic Church.
On Wednesday, out on our wonderful front lawn (our front lawn is wonderful), I have on occasion glanced over at the front door to our church. It's a beautiful church, with stained glass windows. The first set of doors, though, just leads into the our narthex. If you want to go into the sanctuary, you have to go through two sets of doors.
I had never thought of that before.
I considered that it might be intimidating to have to go through not one, but two sets of doors, and to sit down and worship with a bunch of strangers. They may be singing that "All Are Welcome", but it might not feel like it, not really. It might just be too hard to go through those two sets of doors, into that building that seems like someone else's house. The doors are thick and heavy, and mark the difference between inside and outside.
At "Picnic Church" you don't have to go through those doors. There are no doors.
Maybe there is another reason that "Picnic Church" has been successful. Maybe it is we who are different. Out there on the lawn, the church is not a building that we built, that belongs to us, that we have to guard and protect. Out there on the church, we are neighbors and strangers, not insiders and outsiders. Out there on the lawn we are all hungry, and the grace we all receive does not belong to us, any more than the church, with its heavy doors, belongs to us.
We have not ventured far: just the front lawn. But it is a first step out into the neighborhood, the world where God waits, outside the doors.