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The local church is unlike any other institution around. As a community the local church is just that – local. It is made up of the people who live in the neighborhood. Today, the “neighborhood” is bigger than ever. It used to be that the local church was made up of those who could walk to it. Today, commuting several miles – even to another city – is quite common. And with all the amazing connections possible through technology – the “neighborhood” is now anyone with internet access.

In some ways the easy access and availability has resulted in the elimination of borders and boundaries. And yet, in many churches those who walk through the doors all look the same. There are lots of reasons for that, many of them good reasons. Some communities are very homogenous. Some styles are simply preferred by people of similar ethnicities. Sometimes there’s an ultra practical issue like a language barrier.

Despite those very normal reasons people end up gathering with others who are like them, the scriptures are full of language highlighting the fact that heaven will be a place of great diversity. People of “every tribe, tongue and nation” will gather together in the worship of God.

STORYCHURCH happens to be in the middle of an extremely diverse community in Durham, NC. In fact, statistically speaking there is no majority group here. No one group holds more than 50% of the population. That fact alone creates a really rich dynamic in our city. Add to it the fact that people from all over the world come here to study at world class institutions like Duke, UNC and NC State, and you’ve got an incredibly diverse community.

Which brings me to my dream for our church. 

 If this is what heaven is going to look like then how great would it be to see a little bit of that here on earth? It won’t be easy. It will create some difficult situations. We’ll have a lot of work to do to be understanding with one another. But I’m just crazy enough to believe it’s possible.

In fact, I think we are starting to see it. As I was writing this post I noticed a picture one of our group leaders posted this week of a gathering of women from our church and I couldn’t help but smile. It’s happening.

ladiesofstory

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IMG_2099(This series is based on a recent teaching I did at STORYCHURCH. I don’t normally do this but it was so important I’m asking you to listen or watch when you can.)

To read part 1 of this series, go here.

The picture above demonstrates so clearly the heart of God.

In James 1 it says “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”

In other words, take care of the vulnerable, namely vulnerable children and vulnerable women. In our culture today it may not be orphans and widows, it may be foster kids or single parent homes (mom or dad). It may be kids being raised by grandparents or it may be a teenager whose father is incarcerated.

My dream for our church is that we would be known in our city as a church that is taking serious the call to be mentors, coaches, tutors, foster parents, respite providers, youth leaders and advocates for those without a voice.

I pray that teenagers in our city find our church to be full of people who believe in them and want to see them succeed. I pray that single moms find support and mentors for their children. I pray that young people are empowered and raised up to be leaders who shape their culture and break the cycle of pain in so many of their families.

My wife and I have been praying these prayers for a decade or more now and when we moved into our first permanent facility in 2014 we wrote those prayers on the door frames, on the floor and on the stage before finished our renovations.

fatherlesspic We believe these prayers are beginning to be answered. Multiple families within our church are checking in to becoming foster parents, some have already completed classes (including my family!). And this fall we will be hosting Durham Social Services as they train dozens of new potential foster parents right in our facility. It’s an exciting start to what we hope is a movement within our church and ultimately our city.

If you’re interested in learning more about foster care in Durham County, you can go here.

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An open family

June 25, 2013 — Leave a comment

Family Portrait MailchimpI love my church family. We just finished up a series called “Family Portrait” in which we talked a lot about what it means to be part of a spiritual family called a church. One of the things that seemed to resonate with a lot of people was the idea that unlike our biological families – this family is open to anyone. It’s a family that always has room for more. A family where anyone and everyone can join. At STORYCHURCH we’ve continually heard from our guests how warm and welcoming our church is for them. Many have talked about how they feel like they belong almost immediately. And that’s exactly as it should be.

But here’s the problem. The more that we grow, the more difficult it is to keep that “family” feel. And so one of two things is bound to happen. The first possibility is that we start to turn inward. We could start to see new people as a threat to the close family we love. We could start to turn toward the familiar relationships we already have and neglect the guest who happens to visit on a given Sunday. Unfortunately, many churches choose this route – intentionally or not, they choose it. Pretty soon the growth stops and the church begins to die.

But the second possibility is that as the church grows, we celebrate that the family is getting bigger. We rejoice that there are so many people in the family now that we can’t even know everyone. We look at every guest as an incredible addition to the family – enriching us and making us better.

I know that for me and for STORYCHURCH – we choose the second of those possibilities. Every time someone is baptized, every time a marriage is restored, every time a child begs to go back to church, we rejoice that the family is getting bigger, reaching further, and having greater impact than we could ever have on our own.

So STORYCHURCH, here’s what I’m asking you to do to help the family continue to grow:

Continue to invite. Ask your coworker, your neighbor, your grocery store checker. Then ask them again. This family has room for more. No matter how full it feels, we will always have room for more. Whether we have to change venues or add services – we will do whatever it takes to let the family grow. Here’s a few things you can do to invite:

  • Keep a few cards handy. We have business cards available to you at the welcome table with all the information someone would need to take a look at STORYCHURCH. Keep them in your wallet or purse. Hand them out at work. Leave them with a nice tip at a restaurant.
  • Use Social Media. Make sure you’ve “liked” us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter. Whenever STORYCHURCH posts, retweet or share. Whenever you serve, post something about it like this — “Excited to serve at STORYCHURCH today! I’ll be greeting at the door, come and say hi!” Every time we get mentioned online it helps us become more visible to people searching for a family like ours.
  • If you have a blog – put a link to our church site on it.
  • Whenever you get our weekly emails, share them online, “like” them, forward them to a friend.

Treat every Sunday like a family gathering and you are the host. If a guest was in your house, you’d welcome them, offer them food, show them the restroom, find a place for their kids, offer them the best seat, the best parking spot, and the last bagel. You’d engage them in conversation, ask about their kids, and do everything you could to make their time with you comfortable.

Contribute. A growing family has growing needs. We’re asking that you will find a place to serve, to help us create environments where guests feel welcomed into the family. From greeters to food service to kids workers – there’s a place for you to serve. (You can find out more about serving by going to www.storychurch.org/serve) Another way to contribute is to give. Be faithful with what God gives you. If you love this family and want to see the family grow, be faithful to give as often as you receive so that the family can continue to grow and cover the expenses necessary for a growing family. (Give online here.)

I believe we have an incredible family together, and it’s way too good a thing to keep to ourselves. Thanks for taking the time to act on this today!

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