Sunday, September 19, 2010

How some 20somethings started attending a church full of 70somethings in Iowa

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How did a church full of septuagenarians attract a dozen young adults to their congregation? Did they launch an outreach ministry to the postmodern generation? Did they trade the choir and stained glass for a smoke generator and colored stage lights?

Ah, no. They did it with casseroles. In other words, they faithfully did what they knew how to do. God had transformed them over the decades, and Christ had taken up residence in their hearts, and the love and generosity brought these young people into a relationship with them -- and with the Lord. Here's how it happened.

"Henry" and "Kate" grew up Presbyterian in New Jersey; they met at Rutgers and got married, and were headhunted by two firms in Des Moines, Iowa. This is a place where a young couple can afford to buy a nice house in a good neighborhood. When they moved there, they visited one church (a Presbyterian church) a couple of times; they visited another one just once.

Then, like many Millennials, they quit going. Sunday mornings were for reading the paper and drinking coffee at home. So church fell off their radar.

Until the day that Kate found a lump. Nothing to be alarmed about, probably, since there was no history of breast cancer in the family. She talked to her mom about it. Yep, probably nothing to be alarmed about, but she did have it checked out.

Long story short, it was cancer and she needed surgery. When Kate checked in at the hospital, the form asked for a church contact. She wrote the name of the church they had visited twice. The church's pastor visited every day, prayed with all the relatives who flew in from New Jersey, and overall did a terrific job.

After some days, everybody's vacation allotment was gone, and they flew back to New Jersey. Henry's vacation was all gone, too, so he took Kate home and drove off to work. There, lying in bed that afternoon in that big house, Kate thought, "We've got to move back to New Jersey. We don't know anybody here!"

Then it happened: there was a knock at the front door. Kate ignored it at first, but then went downstairs in her robe. There stood a woman (one of these septuagenarians from the church) with a casserole dish in her hands.

After figuring out what was going on (church? what church? "Honey, we've been praying for you every day"), Kate invited her in. "Are you up to it?" she asked.

"Sure; I could use the company," Kate replied. So the church lady came in. Kate put the casserole in the refrigerator.

"Honey, I don't mean to be rude, but you need to dust."

"Yeah, I know. I've been in the hospital and..."

The church lady took charge. "Honey, go back to bed and I'll dust." So Kate did what she was told.

Henry returned in the evening, waking Kate from her nap. "Sweetie, did you buy a casserole?"

"No, the lady from the church brought it."

"Church? What church?" he said. They went through that thing, and Henry got the picture. Then he said, "Sweetie, have you been cleaning the house?"

No, the lady from the church did that too.

You can probably guess what happened the next day, but this time it was a man with a chicken dinner. "You have to follow the instructions very carefully," he told Kate, "or I'm going to be in big trouble." Kate liked him immediately.

"Would you like to come in?"

"Not really. Ah, did you notice that your screen door isn't working quite right?"

"Yes, my husband hasn't gotten around to looking at it. We've been a little busy lately."

"Want me to take care of it?" he asked.

"Do you mind?" Kate was astonished.

"No, I have tools in my car; it'll only take ten minutes."

When Henry came home that night, he asked, "Sweetie, did you fix the screen door?"

This little church, with 125 members, provided dinner for Henry and Kate for six months, besides dusting, fixing the screen door, and who knows what else. Henry reports that they have casseroles to last for years. Kate said (to her mother I think) something like "Whether I live for six more months or six more decades, we're going to die in this church." They are never going back to New Jersey.

But that's not a dozen

Henry and Kate invite their friends over for dinner and defrost a casserole.

"Wow, this is good stuff!" their friends say

"You should see our pot-lucks," they reply.

"When is the next one?"

And that's how a dozen emerging adults happened to come to this church of 70somethings. Of course there's more to the story than that; the septuagenarians were full of generosity and love and acceptance and grace. But life in this little church is changing with these young people.

So now you know

No, this plan won't necessarily work everywhere. But it tends to reinforce the idea that outreach to young people doesn't necessarily require that drastic changes be made. It does require love, acceptance, forgiveness, faithfulness, generosity, grace. A given congregation might need to make some changes, but no magic new formula seems necessary in all cases (it surely wasn't needed in this Iowa story).

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