I’m Gonna Ask You To Step Outside
At this week’s Senior Leadership Team (SLT) meeting, we talked quite a bit about the pros and cons of indoor and outdoor worship. At one point, I said something to the effect of, “Even if there were no such thing as COVID, worshipping outdoors for the summer is the best thing we can do.” Yes, I really believe that! Last week, I highlighted several reasons why that’s the case for 2021 (read about them here), but I’d like to say a little more about the number one benefit of taking worship into the fresh air.
It’s our witness.
Worship is certainly for God and God’s people to meet together, but there is also an implicit counter-cultural challenge in Christian worship and an invitation to join the movement that is built into our gatherings (for example, Jesus’s victory is infinitely more important than any political victory). By moving 150 feet from our indoor sanctuary to God’s great outdoor sanctuary, that invitation can, has been, and will be responded to by our friends and neighbors in the western suburbs.
During Christmas week, we embraced cold temperatures to tell the Christmas story alongside a pen full of wooly animals. So many kids, moms and dads, friends, and neighbors turned up to see what was going on. Our weekly attendance jumped from under 200 to nearly quintuple that. The amount of fun we had also quintupled. None of that happens if we had remained comfortably indoors.
During Holy Week, we had a lot of outdoor worship. On Maundy Thursday, our Elders distributed communion and fielded questions from many curious people. “This is my first time, is this for me?” We answered questions from visitors from other faith traditions and even from other religions. That doesn’t happen if we had remained comfortably indoors.
Easter Sunday was the most well-attended day of worship we’ve ever hosted, with more than 800 people in live attendance but with an even greater majority of worshippers participating via online platforms. How could that be while still riding out the tail end of a pandemic? It wouldn’t have happened if we had remained comfortably indoors.
Might you be willing to join me in believing that it’s worth it to be out of our comfortable seats in order to heighten our witness? Might you be willing to forgo the comforts of climate control in order to give the Holy Spirit more control? By which I mean the Spirit’s desire to woo and whisper at people who are not ready to cross the threshold of a church sanctuary but may be interested enough to see what lively event is going on in our south parking lot.
One other caveat: Some folks have hypothesized to me that outdoor worship is driven by fear. Nope. Being outdoors is 0% about fear and 100% about embracing an opportunity to be a church that exists for the sake of others. Through our outdoor presence, praise, and perhaps even smokey post-worship barbeques, I believe we look a little more like the “city on a hill” that Jesus envisioned. I hope you can see yourself as part of that picture and are willing to step outside.
Grace and Peace,