Learning how to do Ministry on our Front Porch


On Tuesday night, I was invited to attend a meeting sponsored by our Stephen Ministries team.  They had invited Terie Clement (Bear Creek UMC’s resident counselor from the Samaritan Counseling Center) to share about ways we could help support those dealing with addiction. I must admit I was torn as to whether to go or not.  The topic, addiction, is not exactly uplifting!  I had just gotten home from my trip to Hawaii, so I wasn’t really sure I wanted to hit the reality of coming back to work with such a heavy topic.  To be honest I was leaning towards no!  But as I pondered bagging the event, I started thinking about the Stephen Ministries team.  I have never met a more devoted and caring group of people in my time in ministry! I mean who wouldn’t want to be around this supportive group of people…suddenly my heart was leaning in!  But then I thought about how frustrating the last Stephen Ministry meeting was, tucked away in the back room of our educational wing, it just felt like everything I didn’t like about churches these days…closed door, members only…another “back porch” event where only the “in” crowd is welcome.  

In the end, I went to the meeting.  To be truthful? Obligation won out! I felt like I needed to support this great group of people.   I went because I was their pastor.

But as I arrived, I was so surprised with what I discovered!  First of all, the event wasn’t in some back room of our educational wing, it was in the sanctuary, and the Stephen’s Ministries team had prepared for guests!  They had greeters at the door, name tags handy, and the aroma of freshly baked goodies filled the gathering space!  They made me feel like they wanted me here! And as I looked around the sanctuary, I did see many familiar faces, but I also saw several faces I had never seen before.  Oh, there wasn’t one hundred folks in our sanctuary by any means, but there were a significant number of people I did not know!  And as Terie shared her excellent, engaging, and interactive presentation on addiction I suddenly felt my heart open to ways I could be more helpful and engaging in this area of ministry. I left inspired and equipped to do more!

As I sit and ponder this event this morning, my mind travels back to about a year ago.  I was sitting with the Stephen Ministries leadership team and we were pondering just what we were missing in this ministry.  We felt frustrated.  We knew we had a good thing going, but it was like no one knew about us!   It was then that we started talking about the difference between a “back porch” ministry and a “front porch” ministry.  A “back porch” ministry was one intended just for our church family.  A “front porch” ministry was one that was intentionally more public and always included an invite to others.  We made a pledge that night to try to move the Stephen Ministries program from the “back porch” to the “front porch.”  As we talked, we targeted 3 “front porch” events for the upcoming year.  If this event is any indication, I think we are on the right path!

Now, a couple of words of caution concerning “front porch” ministries.  Number one, not all events need to be “front porch” ministries.  Sometimes the family just needs to come together to be family.  Number two, “front porch” ministries don’t all have to be big events.  In fact, some of the more successful “front porch” events I’ve been a part of may have only had 2 or 3 guests attend, but for those 2 or 3 guests meaningful ministry was experienced…and that’s what counts!  Number three, putting out advertising (i.e. posters and flyers and newspaper ads) is important, but THE NUMBER ONE WAY TO INVITE FOLKS TO A “FRONT PORCH” EVENT IS BY PERSONAL INVITATION!   A genuine, loving invitation by someone you know is by far the most effective way to bring people to an event like this. 

So, and this is the key, if you want to be a “front porch” church, the first hurdle you need to get over is represented by this question: “IS THIS AN EVENT YOU WOULD BE WILLING TO INVITE A FRIEND TO?”   And if not, then why not? And if it is, then who can you invite? What are the obstacles that prevent you from inviting others?

We didn’t have a “huge” crowd at the “Addictions” workshop on Tuesday night.  I think I counted around 15 folks.  Some might say that wasn’t a success, but for me, this was an amazing event because it involved two things: risk and invite…the two keys to any successful ministry.   Thank you, Stephen Ministries team, for sticking your neck out and leading! You moved me to better ministry on Tuesday night!

Your friend and pastor, loving what I’m seeing at Bear Creek UMC, Brook  

Tim Schaaf