On the Sunday before our first preview service, a few of us from the Missional Outreach team spent the morning on Grand Avenue. Our desire that morning was to connect with members of the St. Paul community. We wanted to hear directly from those voices as to what the most prominent issues are in the area and what is currently being done about them. We wanted to get an accurate gauge of the community’s spiritual receptivity without forcing theological beliefs on them and without blatantly soliciting for the sake of our church. In short, we wanted some relaxed and authentic conversation with the people who live in the community we are now planting ourselves into.
Once on Grand Avenue, we hit the coffee shops. We split up and started meeting people.
We had a conversation with a woman who told us she was an artist. She talked about the need for neighborhood restoration in St. Paul. She told us that most of the action she sees being taken on issues like this one is facilitated by individuals not paired with any sort of church, organization, or government-funded program. She also talked about the beauty that lies in people using their artistic gifts to benefit the community. It was a good testament to the idea that we can all use our individual talents to benefit the community. As I was dwelling on that thought later that night, I started thinking about how that idea can so closely correlate to a church’s involvement in a community. We, as a body, can combine our individual gifts to foster something beautiful and offer it outward.
The next woman we talked to seemed very closed off when we asked her about community issues. She apologized, saying that she rarely pays attention to life outside of work and her apartment. She asked us why we were inquiring and when we told her we were planting a church, her tone changed entirely. She perked up and excitedly started to ask us questions about our new church. She told us about her experience at her old church and why she didn’t feel connected to the community there. I then asked her what would have made her feel more connected in a church. She said that to feel connected, she would like to see a church that is more content-based than it is program-based. She described her thoughts that bonds over things like theological topics and discussion dig deeper than bonds formed simply because of similar lifestyles. She said she’s looking for a church that’s not afraid to challenge people–one that’s not afraid to let people walk away because of the authentic content it chooses to discuss, no matter how controversial it may be. We ended the conversation in saying that we’d love to see her at one of our services.
Overall, we encountered some great spiritual receptivity along with a bit of spiritual apathy. But more than anything, we realized through these conversations that people want authenticity and people want connection. I encourage all of us to continue facilitating conversations like these. Make connections with the community, build relationships and fruit will grow on both ends of the vine. There is no interaction from which both parties don’t see a little bit of personal growth.