Network! Network! Network!
The Rev. Jason Perkowski leads a recent discussion on policing and trust in communities at the Lancaster Lifetree Cafe that meets Monday evenings at the General Sutter Inn in Lititz. John Coleman photo

Network! Network! Network!

By the Rev. Gordon Hendrickson, Coordinator of Congregational Development

Remember the old axiom about the three most important considerations for buying real estate? It’s “Location! Location! Location!” 

As Coordinator of Congregational Development, I am sometimes asked what the single most important need is for starting or growing a church. Is it having a vision, along with passion and spiritual energy? Or having the right persons to lead the effort?

Some say it’s knowing one’s community and how to address its many needs. Others say it’s having a spiritual covenant to grow new leaders and entrust each other with new ministries. 

Actually, I am a strong believer in all of the above, and we always encourage churches to develop those essential values for ministry growth.

Yet, I keep coming back to something called “networking.”  I remember starting a new church back in the 1980’s—such a long time ago. That’s when you would receive a vision from the Holy Spirit calling you to touch the spiritual needs of your community. You would wander through the wilderness, sharing that vision and wondering if anyone would respond and join you in pursuing it. 

Sometimes you would feel all alone and question God for calling you to this mission enterprise. But you would try to remain faithful and obedient to the vision.

Suddenly, a few people would catch the vision and begin telling others what God was doing at that church for that community. People would invite others to attend worship or Bible study, to get involved in outreach or recreational ministries or mission trips, to sing in choirs or gather for fellowship in members’ homes. People would share their church and its evolving ministries with others, all in the name of Jesus.

That spiritual energy drives the networking that occurs when the Body of Christ begins to expand in growth. People get excited and cannot wait to share with others what the Lord is doing. This is EVANGELISM! 

lifetree-cafe2

We need vision and vitality

But this is what is lacking in too many of our churches today.  As we consider reaching out to our communities, we need vision and vitality to touch people where they feel need, to inspire excitement and to nurture the hope that comes from a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.  We can have all of the ministry growth tools we want, but without passion, nothing will matter.

For more than a year, I have been introducing the innovative Lifetree Café outreach ministry model to churches that show an interest. Leaders of about 30 churches have attended our orientations and trainings, but only several so far have launched this powerful, collaborative ministry in their communities. A few others are planning to join this fledgling movement soon.

Yes, some are still praying and discerning whether this ministry is right for their church or cluster or mission connexion. But for me, this is a no-brainer. 

Each church has two ways to reach those who are not walking with Christ. One way is to invite people into your church to find Christ there. The other is to meet neighbors out in the community, where more of them actually congregate, and to create safe, comfortable environments for guided, non-judgmental conversation about topics that interest them. That is where we can find unpressured moments to share our walk with Christ, what it has meant for our lives and what it can mean for theirs.

We must have passion and a spirit of invitation, reaching out to our families and neighbors, friends and acquaintances, colleagues and classmates. We can invite them to our churches or to restaurants, cafés, pubs and other public places where we can share a meal or beverage, while sharing our friendship with Christ. 

Is there a passion for Christ in your life? Then why not nourish it by sharing it with others? Yes, some folks do not want to be in church or have anything to do with church; but many still have a thirst for good, meaningful conversation.

Lifetree-squareA place to meet and minister to others

So envision planting and growing a Lifetree Café in your community. It’s a place where you can meet and minister to others, a place where the Body of Christ can stretch out its arms, open wide its heart and really network. And yes, growing a Lifetree Café in your community, outside of your church, means evangelism can also be about “Location, Location, Location.”