We’re three years out from 2020 and for some reason my mind recently wondered back to one of the most challenging years of our ministry. As for many, 2020 was a roller coaster for us personally and ministerially. We had just finished phase two at our church campus and there was tremendous momentum. The first month of January, when weather can make attendance a challenge, we were having regular crowds of over 250. Though we had just finished our new auditorium, crowds were swelling so much that we had to order additional chairs. Services were dynamic and powerful, God’s presence was rich and deep, and it seemed as though the sky was the limit.
Like many, I had a twenty-twenty vision for 2020, unfortunately, like most, I never saw COVID in my twenty-twenty vision. By April I was standing on an empty stage trying to preach like I was preaching to 300 but in truth, I was preaching to three cameras. We reopened the campus in May with two services and spaced seating but people were fearful and crowds were sparce. Slowly people began to return but church and life was different, people came late and left immediately, momentum was lost. I spent a lot of time setting at breakfast tables talking people through the challenges and fears. I realized that COVID was not only changing the way we did church; it was impacting relationships. People were hesitant to get together, they were distant, unattached, and confused.
As summer came and we were trying to figure out how to reconnect people, our family went through one of our darkest seasons, we found out depression is real, even if you are a person of faith. This moment helped us understand the importance of getting people reconnected. We navigated through that dark period and as fall came we began to focus on reconnecting people. Many had got lost as they were processing COVID. It was then we decided to do something out of the box; to make a personal house call to every member who called Life home.
From the outset of starting Life, one of Mary and I’s priorities was to make sure every person felt important. We had been a part of churches where there were clicks, where money meant preferential treatment, and a few got time with the pastor. We were determined to do our best to value and invest in everyone. It didn’t matter if you worked at a warehouse or skyscraper, you mattered. Through the years we set at breakfast, lunch, and dinner tables with everyone and nearly every Sunday took someone out for lunch and listened to their story. So, with this backdrop, we set out to make a visit to everyone who called Life home.
Christmas was coming, so we bought over 150 tins of Christmas cookies, ordered a bunch of Christmas cards, and began our journey. We didn’t quite realize the endeavor we had taken on. At the time, nearly 350 to 400 people were calling Life Connections home, and they lived all over central Indiana. For over three weeks, for multiple nights, we would hop in our SUV and make deliveries. We’d show up unannounced, ring door bells and hand people cookies and a Christmas card. Some weren’t home, so we’d leave them on their porch, but for the many that were, the expression they had when they opened the door and saw us was priceless. There were tears, hugs, but mostly big smiles. Many were shocked and I don’t know how many times we heard, “we can’t believe that you would come to our house.” We’d spend a few minutes with them, sometimes pray for them, and then off to the next family. We may have missed a couple of homes, if you are one, we apologize, but through the process we came to realize was that more than the cookies or the card, the gift we really gave was showing up, demonstrating that we cared about them, that they were important…that they mattered.
A church is not a corporation, it’s not programs, it’s not an agenda; it’s family. Some have good stories, some not so much. Some are rich and some are poor. Some are highly educated, some didn’t’ finish high school but often have more common sense. Some are introverts and some are the life of the party, but all want to be a part of the party, or at least invited.
What made Jesus so amazing is He made everyone important, something that the Pharisees never figured out. They preached one thing but lived another. They pretended to minister and care for people but had no personal interest in them. It’s what turned people off to religion and it’s a pattern in many churches today. Ministries that preach and have processes, but no real interest in spending personal time with people. Jesus took time for children, the broken, the widow, and hurting families. He went home with the sinners like Zacchaeus, across a sea to touch one man filled with a demon, and to Samaria for one woman who was going to a well alone. What Jesus preached is what he lived. If he did, shouldn’t we? Everyone matters.