So, last Sunday, a bunch of us from our Foothill Ranch House Church threw a neighborhood festival in the cul-de-sac by our host home. There was a giant inflatable waterslide. There was a water balloon fight, a cake walk, a cupcake eating contest, crafts, balloons, bean bag toss games, facepainting, free hot dogs, popcorn and snow cones for all. The afternoon/evening culminated in an open air street concert featuring "Dean-o" of "Dean-o and the Dynamos" whose rapid fire songs about the value of the Bible and trusting God were illustrated by four young ladies from two families who had gone through the trouble to learn the songs in advance and provide interperative choreography for each. Too fun!
Here are some things that stood out to me about the whole event:
* It was amazing how much was pulled off by such a relatively small number of people.
* The old "80-20" rule did NOT apply (20 percent of the people do 80 percent of the work). In our case, it was 100 percent participation from the host families and singles right on down to the smallest of our tribe. That was SO gratifying!
* This was not a "staff driven" or "pastor driven" event. I guest preached two services at a church an hour from the neighborhood that morning, picked up the sound system and a few other things from our storage unit, and arrived an hour before start time. All preparations were either already done or finishing up. These folks worked hard. They made and distributed the flyers, came up with the ideas, involved the neighbors, coordinated the expenses, designed the set up and did all the work. We were all very tired by the end of the day, but it was stunning how productive these people were -- all because they wanted to bless a neighborhood as the local house church.
* This was our second event of this kind (last one was in November, a couple months after we had started up). The first one was good. This one was even better.
* The cost for us to put on this event -- one that put us in touch with dozens of folks outside our house church -- was 1/3 of a month's rent for the building we were leasing for our traditional church in Rancho Santa Margarita. That's not to say our event was cheap. It wasn't. It is to say that the "bang for the buck" factor in terms of outreach was immensely greater than any of the events we used to do that depended on people coming to our church campus to experience. There is a big fat lesson here.
* In the less than a year that Foothill Ranch House Church has been officially constituted, we have put on: another similar festival to last Sunday's, a Christmas Eve service including a live nativity play (held in the garage for all to see!), an open air Easter Sunday service held on a beautiful spring day right on the street, and countless smaller touches on neighbors including a gift basket delivery / prayer session for one that had been recently diagnosed with breast cancer, etc. If it is true that, in sharing the gospel, we ought to count "conversations" and not just "conversions", I cannot remember a time when so many "conversations" about Christ, the church, and the kingdom have been so plentifully initiated in such natural and even fun ways.
* In giving up our traditional church modality, we have faced new problems -- mostly related to how we will organize ourselves, care for our kids and teens, and a few other issues that are mostly about what we miss and what we were used to. But that price is so small to pay for what I have seen in terms of active participation in ministry from all ages, quality fellowship and interpersonal ministry among our small group of house church people, outward flowing stewardship of money and efficiency and MEASUREABLE commitment of our mission to "empower everyday people to take the ministry of Jesus to everyday places."
This has been a year of experimentation, lessons learned, saying some bittersweet goodbyes to the familiar, speedbumps, and so on. But I confess that -- combined with what I have seen in our other two house churches in our network and the individuals involved in them -- I'm pretty darn spoiled for ever wanting to go back to the old way of doing and being church. In that regard, what I mostly miss is the people and, in a way, we still get to have each other and the memories we have made, the growth we have gained and the love we have engendered. But when it comes to modalities of church life, I've never been more encouraged about actually seeing what I believe to be important put into actual practice.
One year later, this festival reminds me that saying "yes" to change, though difficult, can be very, very rewarding.