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How Open?

20 July, 2004 4:24 PM

One of the things I've been wondering about the past month or so is how open to make Living Room gatherings to people outside our community who want to come for 'a look'.

It is becoming more and more common for us to have visitors to our Tuesday night gatherings - in fact every week for the past month I've had people ask if they can come and visit our group (I'm aware some of these people read this blog so please forgive me if you are one of them and don't take offense at anything I'm about to write - I'm not talking about any individual here, but in general terms about a broader issue than any person or group of people).

I always have a bit of a torn feeling inside of me when someone asks if they can come along to check us out.

On one hand I'm really excited for two reasons.

  • I want to share what we're doing with as many people as possible. There is a real interest here in Melbourne of people wanting to see new and different forms of church. Many are in the process of wanting to start their own and to taste and see who we are can be helpful in that process.
  • I also think LivingRoom benefits from new people and I like to have outside stimulation for our community. It's great to have interaction with new people - even on a one off basis. Some of our best nights have been with visitors stimulating our discussion.

However on the other hand I wonder what impact it is having on the group also on a number of fronts.

  • Constantly having new faces can impact the amount that some of our regulars will share of themselves. We are trying to create a safe place for deep sharing and growth. Whilst some of our group are fine with sharing deeply with visitors others (myself included) may not be as comfortable with this.
  • Because we are so small, one or two visitors can really change the dynamics of a night. Of course this can be positive, but it is difficult to get momentum going and establish patterns in a gathering over time with such coming and going. Also I find that in preparation for our nights I take into account who will and won't be there in terms of what we do. There are some things its not appropriate to talk about with visitors around (ie issues we're working through as a group in terms of our community/relationships etc). If we have a run of 4 weeks with visitors it has an impact.
  • It seems that around half of those who say they are coming - don't show up or ring in at the last minute that they won't be there. I suppose in a larger church context it doesn't matter quite so much if people don't show up, but in a small setting it is very noticeable. I guess people assume we operate on a 'come if you like' mentality. In actual fact we don't. Of course we have people away each week, but generally we know of people's movements in advance and can plan accordingly. By plan I mean plan for our meal (quantities of food etc) but also the content of what we do on the night. People not showing up can really throw a night off.
  • So why am I writing this? I'm hesitant to post it at all for fear that people will think I'm ranting, please believe that I'm not. I'm just trying to work out where the balance is. It's something I want to talk to the group about tonight actually - but I'm interested in my wise readers thoughts also. Has anyone thought this one through? How 'open' is your community to new one off visitors? Do you have some boundaries to keep the balance? Interested in your thoughts.



    In any household there is a need for FAMILY times, where no visitors are "allowed". I think that these times are key for any developing community, however times with family friends is also extremely important. I guess it is important to know who the family is and who the friends are first, and then times can be worked out amongst each other from there. Just a thought!?

    Shane Dryden » 20 July, 2004 5:53 PM

    Maybe you could designate 1 Tuesday a month to either having no visitors (and plan the tough, probing questions for then) or as a night when you *do* welcome visitors and do whatever might be appropriate for that context?

    graham » 20 July, 2004 7:20 PM

    I agree with both of these comments. I value community-time as well (talking the "real" community here), but I also know that the community wouldn't exist without vistors. Of course, after that 1 Tuesday a month, are the visitors allowed to come back as "regulars" the next week? It's quite an issue.

    timsamoff » 21 July, 2004 1:39 AM

    How might you create two types of space: (1) intimate (for the core group / plus, how do you move people from the edges to the core or centre), and (2) Public - enabling people to engage with the permeable missional edges of Living Room or for that matter, Living Room engaging and embodying gospel within culture (festivals, workshops, labyrinths etc.). It could mean two distinct part of an evening gathering - a core gathering (core liturgy & practices) plus a public component (public liturgy & practices, e.g. hospitality around prayer and biblical story-telling (gather around a meal, or coffee and dessert, around God who invites and calls)...Alan Roxburgh has written on these kind of 'structural' issues in Missional Church...it might stimulate some ideas / possibilities...

    Paul Fromont » 21 July, 2004 6:37 AM

    Have you read the chapter on Welcome in Community & Growth by Jean
    Vanier. I have found it realy helpful around these issues. It's in
    some ways talking about different issues but I reckon that the
    principles in many ways still work.
    He talks about there being a time for everything: "A community will need
    times of intimacy, just as it will always need times of openness."
    I wonder whether a visitor - or possibility of a visitor is too much for
    you guys every week? Whether that means you are not having enough times
    of intimacy?

    He also talks about that once you've welcomed some people you need to be
    careful not to welcome others who will seriously threaten their growth -
    or the growth of the community. I wonder whether for you guys that's
    not about the individuals you might be welcoming as visitors but rather
    the frequency of it.

    He also talk about Who Welcomes? Is it the leader or the community?
    Who is making the decision about that? I find that an interesting

    That's a few of Vanier's thoughts.
    I struggle - it's so important to be open but too much coming and going
    can cause real issues for a community - I've been in groups of both
    extremes and it's a difficult balence.

    Barb » 21 July, 2004 8:38 AM

    this is a difficult topic. if your group exists to be missional and to reach out to people who don't know Christ you are going to have to accept new people. this dilemma is especially hard for emerging chruches cause at some point you have to split the group up due to growth. if small and intimate is your goal on tuesdays then you will have the create multiple groups. don't underestimate the importance of this darren. it may just turn out to be the kind of thing people war over.

    Tim Heerebout » 21 July, 2004 11:31 PM

    thanks for your thoughts - I am digesting them all.

    Just to clarify - I'm actually talking more about Christians who are coming for a one off look and see - people who are involved in other churches and not people coming along who are interested in joining in longer term with us...

    Darren Rowse » 21 July, 2004 11:51 PM

    Not sure if 'spiritual tourism' is what God has called us to, and I am pretty sure you're not into this.

    If the visits are changing the dynamics of the group then you have got to ask if it is worth it?

    It might also be good for people to learn a new "way of doing church" through what the Spirit shows them and not through observing what you are doing, especially at the expense of the Living Room.

    Shane » 22 July, 2004 1:55 AM

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