I have a love-hate relationship with church league softball. Playing on a church team marked the debut of my adult softball life and I love to play softball. Yet, the more I thought about it, the more I wondered about its purpose and what could be its purpose.
Every game, we played against other churches in our city—the Baptists, the Presbyterians, the Catholics, and so on. Every game, we circled up at the beginning to pray in the infield—though the rest of the game involved just as much cussing as the regular city league. Every game, our team filled our field and bench with people who already came to our church.
What was interesting to me was that church league softball was considered part of the “outreach” of our church—maybe because we had to be outside the church walls to run after pop flies in the outfield.
When I moved back to Northern Virginia, I chose not to play church league softball; my church doesn’t and will never have a team anyway. Instead, I joined a regular coed league—filled with non-Christians who don’t care much about church.
However, they do care about softball and will wake up early on a Sunday morning to play it.
By playing a sport that I love—and doing so outside a “churchified” context—I have connected with many who don’t know Jesus.
This makes me wonder: how many common church activities that benefit church members could instead be used to connect with people who don’t know Christ. Could they even be used to start a fresh expression of church?
I have thought of five possibilities, which, with a few changes, could become just that:
1. Church League Softball
Instead of starting or continuing your church team think about intentionally forming a new one. A few church members could recruit their friends and co-workers to play. Chances are, you know a lot of people who would never want to be on a church team, but would love to be on your team. Join a non-church league with the mission of loving and listening to these people. Build relationships, gather after games and get to know their families. Along the way, pray for the Spirit to pave the way to talk about faith.
2. Church Picnic
Everybody loves a picnic, so why not hold one for the neighborhood instead of just your church? Though they say to “bring a friend,” church picnics usually are not very welcoming to visitors or strangers who don’t know anyone. It seems it’s an “insider” thing, especially when it’s held on church property.
Why not hold the annual church picnic at a local park or in conjunction with a neighborhood association, send out postcards to neighbors to invite them to take part and serve everyone? Perhaps this becomes a once a week or once a month community gathering with a church at its center.
3. Yard Sale
Often, church members clear out their attics and garages to make money for the mission team or new kitchen equipment, but a yard sale that the neighbors could join in might be even better. Advertise spaces and create an online reservation form. Don’t worry that the neighbors will keep their money. Organize a post-yard sale cookout to bring everyone together.
4. Food Pantry
Many churches have their own or contribute to a multi-church or community food and clothing pantry, yet few know the people they serve by name or have built relationships with them. But loving and serving is one of the first steps in starting a fresh expression of church. A weekly food handout or delivery could become a birthday celebration or an opportunity to share breakfast and pray together. Learn names. Play with children. Share a meal.
5. Christmas Pageant
An annual tradition for church kids can become an outside community event and sing-along. When I was growing up, a nearby neighborhood held a pageant every year in a cul-de-sac on the Sunday evening before Christmas. Live musicians played, carols were sung, cookies and cocoa were shared, and people from the crowd were recruited to read the parts. Encourage families to go into their neighborhoods and tell the Christmas story with their neighbors—and get to know them.
What other common church activities can you think of that could become a starting point for fresh expressions of church?
Kris Beckert is a Mission Strategist/Trainer with Fresh Expressions US. She serves as Pastor of Innovation and Multiplication at Salem Fields Community Church in Fredericksburg, Virginia.