• Having two or three very different people offer testimony in worship.
• Placing the announcements (including time for people to share concerns) before the prayers.
• Finding ways for the public expression of grief during worship or another gathering. For example, leaders can give people time to say goodbyes to leaders, interns and congregational members. When a vision-impaired member of our community shared during worship that he would no longer be driving, a reality that impacts his future work and saddens him, we made sure not to rush that. The congregation shared his pain and responded to him.
An intern pastor asked me if I thought his home congregation held as many people with stories of such profound brokenness as does ours. Not knowing the other congregation, I couldn't make any comparisons. But I told our intern that those who serve in pastoral roles are in a unique position to learn people's stories. And our congregation is good at attracting people whose lives have had their fair share of messiness.
Becoming aware of the overwhelming brokenness in our community is something that happened along the way. It developed as we worked hard to create an environment in which the truth about our lives could be told.
Have you ever been part of a committee charged with outreach or evangelism? Often when we congregational leaders talk about reaching out beyond the walls of our buildings, we immediately jump to possible events and programs. That's unfortunate, as this can overshadow the need for deeper dialogue about the ambience of a community of faith.
Unlike shows on the Home and Garden Television network, congregational ambience isn't about candles and throw pillows — something to be planned, programmed or measured in a verifiable kind of way. Yet it is real. Newcomers sense a congregation's ambience when they gather with the community. They sense an ambience marked by anxiety and control, as much as they sense an ambience of freedom and joy. What visitors sense and experience helps determine whether they want to return.
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