Sticky Church. Larry wisely made it clear that churches need to be "sticky" to reach and retain people. He then pointed out that, like "Legos", we each have a limited number of pegs with which we can connect to others. That simple word picture is ripe with practical applications, both for me and for the church I pastor.
For me, it’s a reminder that my 849 Facebook "friends" stretch the definition of what a friend can do and be. While I may care about each of their birthdays, anniversaries and other life events, it’s far beyond impossible for me to deeply and genuinely connect with them. Some of them are high school classmates whom I haven’t seen in over 40 years. Others are college friends that I haven’t talked with in over 30 years. Some are people I have met in various travels and a momentary greeting has turned us into "friends" on FB. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not ranting here. It’s just that I understand my limitation to only a few Lego pegs in my life. I want to provide plenty of time and focus for them, which means I must limit others.
I just arrived home from a week at Children’s Camp, a frenzied and amazing week of God changing lives. Some of us on the camp staff have worked together in this way for many years. Our annual week up in the mountains is very much like a family reunion. We laugh, sometimes cry, visit and catch up. It’s like we vacate a couple of our Lego pegs for the week and fill them with each other. One part of us wants to stay connected all the time, but another part of us is aware that our pegs are limited. Upon our return home, they are quickly filled again with the long-term connections that are so important.
As I arrived home on Friday, Cathy told me about reading a book by a pastor, in which he spoke of prioritizing the most important people in his life. This clearly limited his time for many others. He spoke of his priorities with a word picture reminiscent of concentric circles. His most important relationships were in the middle with him, with another larger circle for co-workers and leaders in his church. As he added circles (Cathy’s word picture, not his), each one was farther from him and his focus.
I know that this is painful for some, who want to be the "most important" person in the life of everyone they know, but let’s be real here. We all have need for healthy relationships and we all have limited Lego pegs. As we try to make good decisions about our own "inner circle", we must be willing to embrace that others are leaving us out of theirs. When Osborne talked about this in Sticky Church, he made it clear that their church’s Small Groups are where those closest relationships are formed. Their groups are where daily life is shared and people accomplish Hebrews 10:24: "And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds." (NIV)
This will be painful for some to read, but the Lego concept is the very reason we tell newcomers to our church that they need to be in a Small Group if they want to receive personal care in their time of need. If they are in the hospital, it is the Small Group who will visit them and provide food for the family. They will do so as an act of love for someone in their inner circle, rather than an obligation to meet a need. As a pastor, I genuinely love the people who come to Stone Ridge, but I am greatly limited when it comes to personal ministry. Those closest to the center of my life get the priority.
This whole Lego concept works in the macro life of the church as well as the micro life of individuals. Every church needs to decide how to use limited resources to reach people with the love of Jesus. "Everyone" isn’t a good enough answer. No church, no matter how large, can reach everyone. This reality has changed the way Stone Ridge is doing Vacation Bible School this year. Every year we are inundated with kids from other churches who are VBS hopping, giving their kids safe and fun activities during the summer break. I know this is great for those families and I don’t fault those who do it. However, we have decided to be more focused for this year’s VBS. Our church is doing Monday-Wednesday of VBS for kids who live in a nearby neighborhood. The only way Stone Ridge kids can attend those three days is if a parent is on VBS staff. We won’t open our VBS to the public until Thursday and Friday of that week. Don’t we know that this will mean less kids are in our VBS since many of the "hoppers" will be looking for an entire week? Yes! But our Legos are pretty much full in this area and we are very excited about reaching kids who otherwise wouldn’t be in anybody’s VBS.
By the way, our VBS decision will be criticized. In fact, that has already happened. In the same way some people hope to be in the inner circle of every friend, they can’t understand why we don’t throw open the doors for everyone those first three days of VBS. It was a hard call, but I think our children’s leaders were wise to make it. Remember, we are just as limited as a single Lego!
I am enjoying my "summer break" from preaching at Stone Ridge. Our Life Repurposed series has been encouraging and challenging. While SRC is enjoying sermons from a wide variety of our leaders, I have been catching my breath from the weekly grind of sermon prep. I have also been working with our partner church in the Dominican Republic and got to serve as Children’s Camp pastor. My Legos are still pretty crowded, but I am getting refreshed. I hope you can be with us this weekend for the next Life Repurposed installment. Can’t make it? Catch the podcast!