Nearly a decade ago, the church where I was serving held a Trunk or Treat event at church. A number of members got together after worship and decorated their cars and welcomed people to come by. We had a few people who actually did come with their kids. One gaggle of kids included a little girl in a cheerleader costume who went around giving everyone hugs. It was priceless. Since we didn't have a ton of kids, one could see this as a failure. The thing is, very few of did see it that way. There was talking of doing the event the following year, maybe on Saturday evening to attract more folks. People were generally excited to be doing something that opened the church up to the neighborhood and well, allowed them to have fun.
A few more years pass, and I was now serving at First Christian-St. Paul. We decided to have our own Trunk or Treat on Halloween. It was a cold Halloween and we were hopeful a few kids would stop by. We stood out in the cold for nearly 3 hours and no one ever came. This time it was not hard to feel that this event was an abject failure.
Sometimes we take a risk and open the church up to the wider community. We want them to be successful, but there are times, that no matter how hard we try, we fall on our faces.
When we as a congregation seek to be hospitable and open the church doors, there is no guarantee that people are going to walk though those doors. The role of a church is to tell those around us that they are welcomed at God’s table. We can’t force them to come, but when we as church share God’s love with others, we extend an invitation to come to God’s Welcome Table.
In a culture where the church is not seen as an intregal part of the community, we have to except that there are going to be times when we are in what the late church consultant Loren Mead described as "low tide". To make a long story short, Mead says this is the context we are currently doing ministry in, and we have to grow into the reality that sometimes people don't want or need us.
A few years ago, I started to see the Parable of the Sower in a different light. This is the story where a farmer is throwing seeds hither and yon. In some places the seed took root and grew, but in other cases the seed either died or was taken away by birds. I used to think that the emphasis was supposed to be about the condition of our souls. Were we good soil or was the soil rocky?
But the Parable of the Sower is really about God and God's message. The farmer is just throwing seed anywhere and everywhere in a way that no one who is familiar with gardening or farming would ever do. God threw the seed of the gospel in different people. Some accepted it and the seeds took root. Others didn't accept it and the invite died. In the end, what mattered is not as much our own "soil," as it was to be generous with the gospel. It is up to us to throw the seeds of the good news anywhere and everywhere.
Hospitality in this day and age is rough work. But God never said the work would be easy. So we keep welcoming people to church and pray that one day seeds will take root in spring up in the lives our family and friends and ultimately our own hearts.