By Pastor Kelly Chatman
Albert Einstein has been quoted to have said that “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.” The congregation I serve is more than 100 years old and 50 years ago it was thriving, with neighborhood residents walking to worship on Sunday mornings.
The congregation was said to have had so many children that one of the classes was actually held in the boiler room. More recently we had reached a time when few people walked to church and few children attended Sunday school; the boiler room had become a quiet, seldom-entered space.
“Have we lost imagination for how and where God might show up.”
In spite of the changing circumstances, this congregation continued to do the same old things hoping and expecting a different result. In reality, people were not coming. The sanctuary remained beautiful, but seating space was readily available on Sunday mornings.
Desperate times demand desperate measures. I know this may sound shocking, but we tried something different.
REALIZING THAT CHILDREN WERE NOT flocking to participate in our after-school program, we noticed that a popcorn shop across the street had been closed for some time. The inside of the shop was in great shape and we began to wonder about that space as a possible location for our after-school program. We gathered enough resources to commit to renting the shop for a year and we launched our after-school outreach in the popcorn shop.
Three little girls who were sisters in family foster care began attending the after-school program. One of the girls asked our youth director, “Is [the after-school program] a church or a magical place?” It gets better. At the end of the year, the shop owner, who had been critical of the church, not only returned half the year’s rent, he had his son baptized at the church.
Not all the good stuff happens in the church building!
Sometimes our blessings come when we try new things. Sometimes magic happens in the boiler room. Sometimes it happens when we dare to encounter people who have given up on the church. Sometimes I wonder if God isn’t waiting for the church to show up outside the walls of our buildings.
“Sometimes magic happens in the boiler room.”
I wonder not because something inside is lacking, but because we have lost imagination for how and where God might show up. I mean, really, if Sunday school can happen in a boiler room and a popcorn shop can lead to baptism, maybe that little girl’s question is not such a stretch. Can the church also be a magical place?
So friends, let’s look around our church buildings and our neighborhoods. Where might there be opportunity to try something new as an outreach and service in your community? What opportunity might be waiting for our congregations and for us to become God’s imaginative people.