Guest post from Valley Community Baptist Church, Avon, Connecticut
Originally published November, 2014. Updated November, 2015.
Our church in New England isn’t in the heart of the Bible-belt. This area is full of stoic people behind stone walls. Folks in our neighborhoods can even be hostile towards the Gospel. But that doesn’t mean their need isn’t just as great.
Imagine your neighbors who are battered by life. Those who want something more from life. Those who don’t even know what they’re missing. Now imagine your neighbors receiving God’s mercy and finding grace to help when they need it most.
As a church, we so desperately want for our neighbors to know God’s grace and mercy. In fact, we want it for the 1.2 million people who live in the counties closest to us – but that is a God-sized dream. We know that we can’t do it through programs or sermons.
Sharing God’s grace and mercy is best done relationally.
In 2014, we suspended our traditional in-house Christmas program featuring a nationally-known speaker. Instead, we equipped and encouraged the women of our church to reach out to their neighbors at Christmas. We modified the Neighborhood Cafe invitation to fit the season and our audience. We created an Open House kit for women with invitations, a short DVD about the truth of Christmas, a simple set of checklists and the option of a fun, simple Advent countdown craft that could be done by those attending the open houses.
Download the tools
We prepared all the materials and we prayed. We knew we were asking our women to take a huge step of faith to open their homes and invite their friends, neighbors or co-workers. Finally, we announced sign-ups for Christmas Cafe Kits.
And then we were blown away! More than 100 women in nearly 30 New England towns signed up to host a Christmas Open House!
We ran out of Kits and had to make more. We knew that not all of those Open Houses would happen, but their initial responses let us know that God is working in the hearts of New England women to share God’s grace and mercy with those who haven’t yet experienced the gift of unconditional love and unmerited salvation.
Some women invited just 4-5 people to their Open House, and one woman invited her entire street of 50 homes. Our prayer wass that these Open Houses would be used by God to speak into the lives of those who need it most as we share God’s grace and mercy through everyday relationships.
Amy Lively’s message of “How to Love your Neighbors without Being Weird” came at just the right time for our church. It was such a timely message that coincides with the dream God has set before us that we invited Amy to speak at our Fall Women’s Dinner in 2015. She shared simple, practical ways to get to know our neighbors using our God-given personality. Several hundred women joined us for a night of food, fellowship and faith as we prepared to host our second season of Christmas Open Houses and share God’s grace and mercy with our neighbors.
We’ve already seen fruit in our women’s ministry!
A guest who heard Amy speak started a neighborhood Bible study in her home, and already one of her neighbors has accepted Christ as her Savior! This woman was not even planning on attending the dinner because she didn’t have a ride. When another woman learned this on Facebook, she took two hours out of her day to pick her up and take her back home – and they had never even met before! When we cooperate with the Kingdom and love our neighbor (without being weird, of course!) lives are changed and communities are transformed.