Last Sunday we had twenty families come together at Isel Park for the St Barnabas Mother’s Day Photobooth. We welcomed families from inside and outside the St Barnabas community to have some beautiful family snaps taken. It was a free event, put together with aroha, to bless our families and build up the connections between Christians, non-Christians and families who are following Jesus but are currently not part of a church whānau.
Last year, we organised it as part of our family missional community, Rātapu, but this year we tied it in with St Barnabas Stoke, as we felt the need for it to have a parish connection.
Now, you might reckon, "A photobooth in a church or with a parish, what's the big deal?"
No slides, no Sunday morning notices, no social media posts - only personal invitations were used. In fact I think that most of St Barnabas had no idea that it was happening.
We intentionally aimed to limit the number of Christians present. We planned this event as a deliberate outreach, aiming to keep the making of these connections our focus. If we had publicised it in the church, there's a good chance it would have become primarily a parish fellowship event.
Hear me right, strengthening the body of Christ is an awesome thing. But we've seen how often these gatherings can see friends from church gravitating together, while any non-Christians or new people can find themselves unintentionally left on the outside of conversations. No one does this on purpose, but sometimes too many familiar faces can make Christians a bit complacent about welcoming the outsider.
But from my experience, these gatherings tend to become Christian-heavy, which can make non-Christians feel a bit out of place, reducing the effectiveness of its outreach. It might seem odd to organise a great event and keep it hush-hush, but this approach helped us maintain our outreach focus and made it more invitational and intentional. And we noticed a difference in how people engaged too. Each whānau coming knew at least one other family. Rather than just getting their photo and leaving, they lingered, enjoying a cupcake with Greta Greenwood, having a kōrero with Jude Saxon while waiting for a sausage, or catching up with the friend who invited them.
As we strive to be a missional diocese, we need to embrace the power of focus and invitation.
In the end, we had around a hundred adults and tamariki from twenty families at the Mother’s Day Photobooth, with seven of those whānau either not knowing Jesus or not presently being a part of a church community. The event was a huge success, and I can't wait to strengthen our connection with those non-Christian families over the coming months and to do it again for Mother's Day next year.
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We have invited these writers to share their experiences, ideas and opinions in the hope that these will provoke thought, challenge you to go deeper and inspire you to put your faith into action. These articles should not be taken as the official view of the Nelson Diocese on any particular matter.