Let me tell you what I love about serving in communications:
I love that I see the back end numbers of who we are reaching. Church is more than Sunday morning in a building. I love that our content social media is reaching both our followers (our congregation and friends) and non-followers.
I love to track which type of content reaches the most people. Seriously – if I tell you that your content isn’t right for a particular platform, it’s only because I want your content to reach the most people.
I love that I get to provide a connection for someone who can’t— or maybe even won’t— come to a physical building.
I love that I get opportunities to pray for those people online during the service.
I love that I get to listen and watch the service sometimes several times over as I create shareable clips to post during the week.
I love that I get to care for a team. It’s a small team, but they are dedicated, talented, and it’s growing.
I love that God had given me a vision for growth in this ministry and that He gave me the heart to see it as a ministry rather than a task.
I love that I get advance notice of what’s to come. I get to pray for how people will receive the words and sometimes get to promote what’s to come.
I love connecting with my counterparts at other churches both globally and locally to strategically reach our communities and our world for Jesus through digital platforms.
I love creating series art and sermon quote art — its not slapping words on an image— it’s the word of God coming to life visually.
There are more things I love — too many to list.
Now let me tell you what I miss (because love does take sacrifice)
I miss Sunday lunches and dinners with my family. Video editing can take a lot of time
I miss praying with people or even talking to people at church. Most people don’t know I’m even there. The livestream starts early, ends late, and there’s gear to pack up. There have been times I needed prayer, but I push through it to serve others. I’ve served through sadness, grief, tiredness, and loss that no one ever knew about.
I miss certain activities and events. Communications is not only device-centric but time sensitive. I need to be serving when most people are “off.”
I miss a dedicated lunch break every Thursday to send our church email.
I miss being part of a team that huddles and prays together.
I miss mornings, evenings, weekends, and sleep. I serve when I’m not working my full-time job.
I will always always always start with what I love. What I’m grateful for.
Every ministry…. EVERY MINISTRY takes sacrifices.
Ask people in ANY ministry what they give up to serve. Their lists are undoubtedly long.
This is NOT an “I give up more than you” comparison.
If we’re going to compare, let’s compare our lists to Jesus’.
You know those times you need one thing from the store? We no longer live in a time where you can borrow a cup of sugar from your neighbor. Unless you have our neighbors — they’re the best.
But sometimes in the middle of a mess, you really HAVE to run to the store.
You’ve had a hard day and it shows in how you look. And you pray that you won’t run into anyone you actually know.
And then you see everyone. Almost everyone.
So yesterday going to and at church…
Let me back up…
Last week was one of those weeks that I wished didn’t happen. A prayer that I’ve prayed for wasn’t answered as I’d hoped. A family we love is grieving the loss of someone way too young.
And yes, as Christ followers we know without a doubt where she is. But there is still heartbreak. This is not the outcome I prayed for.
The sadness hit heavy and hard.
But the show — or in this case the church service — must go on.
So I made it to church and took my place in the back. Behind the screen.
My little livestream corner.
I prepped some social media (really just resized slides to squares — 17 of them!), remembered that I hadn’t scheduled a push notification which has to be done manually each week, I checked a link which I had hoped would be ready ahead of schedule – but wasn’t, I prepped our sermon title thumbnails so all I would need post-service was a single image, and then I cried.
I cried more than I thought I would, could, or should.
The sermon was fantastic, but my tears were a response to the week.
Weary, exhausted, and heartbroken tears.
Fortunately no one turned around and saw the crying mess I was in the back of the room. And I even had the opportunity to pray with someone on the livestream. I do love it when people ask for prayer during our livestream.
And talk about great. Any morning that that sees four hands raised for Jesus, yields a Sunday afternoon cutting 12 sermon clips, a baptism recap video, and church members requesting digital copies of the service slides is undoubtedly a great morning.
But I definitely breathed a sigh of relief when I got home.
Relief that only Jesus saw – and relief that Jesus always sees and loves – the blotchy, swollen, puffy-eyed, runny-nosed, middle-of-the-mess me.
Never more grateful for a view from the back than yesterday.
A few Sundays ago, I was serving my church — doing what I often do on a Sunday: editing video.
This particular Sunday, there was a church event, so I had my laptop in front of me while precariously balancing a plate of hot dogs (I never did eat them) and a bag of popcorn.
The person across from me asked if I was working.
There’s a difference.
Do the lines get blurred?
In short — no. But I suppose they could.
To be fair, when I worked at a church, those lines did get blurred. Often and almost always.
But now. I work full time in church media.
I serve in a leadership role in church communications.
Media // Communications
There’s definitely potential for some lines to get blurred.
But they don’t.
Work is Monday-Friday 8am-5pm with a short break for lunch. I have some flexibility since I work from home. But my employer honors my time by paying me a fair living wage and providing benefits, so I will honor my time commitment to them.
It’s called: A JOB.
Serving our church comes before work, after work, and on weekends.
To the outsider it could appear that I’m working all the time.
I am not.
I’m blessed to have a job I truly enjoy, co-workers who are more like friends, and the knowledge that my work is making an impact for Jesus’ Bride — the church.
I’m equally blessed to serve our family church in a role that merges my ability, affinity, and affirmations.
I’m able to separate the two and draw boundaries.
Is it easy? No. But doable.
I’ll dive into how I do this in a later post. But for now – no blurry lines.
In their hearts humans plan their course, but the LORD establishes their steps. – Proverbs 16:9
Here’s what’s hard about this.
Sometimes those steps aren’t easy. Sometimes God will give you gifts you don’t want to use and call you to ministry you don’t really want to be in.
I’m an introverted people person.
It sounds weird, but I’ll explain.
Way WAY back at the beginning of this Christian journey, I was working for a creative marketing company.
Personal friends invited me to church. I went.
I thought it might be good to get involved so I grabbed a connect card and checked any and all appropriate boxes.
And I never got the call.
Classes, events, and Bible studies happened and I never got invited.
Church became the loneliest place.
As a new Christian, I was digging into the word and studying the Bible.
I did this on my own, but there are lot of good books and resources — and I was still attending church on Sunday morning and hearing sermons.
And I realized that the actions — or inactions of not responding to a connect card – of people weren’t indicative of the character of God.
This is important and I’m glad I learned this lesson early (and hear it often).
God’s character does not change based on our circumstances.
But my desire to make sure no one ever felt lonely in church led to a leadership role in connections, first impressions, and assimilation.
I loved helping our first time guests connect to the right ministry or small group.
I’m mostly introverted, but even introverts need a few close friends, and I loved having this purpose.
Gradually my focused shifted to primarily first impressions, and I remember the exact moment I was called to communications. God had been stirring my heart in communications and when that moment happened, He was unmistakably clear. (I’ll share in another post.)
So my life behind the screen began. As an introvert, this suited me. But as someone who doesn’t like to do life alone, this was hard.
Remember I had a background in creative marketing. I knew my way around graphic design software, databases, and email marketing platforms.
But life behind the screens can get lonely. I’ve heard the same sentiments from people in other ministries. To a musician, life behind the instrument or from the stage, can be lonely. From a photographer, it’s life behind the lens. There are even books about the painful side of leadership.
From website updates, graphic design, to post service video editing, the world of church communications, can be isolating — this is especially true if you’re serving in a small church.
Many things in communications are time sensitive. (The podcast has to drop by a certain time which means audio needs editing, and the audio is generated from the video…) Meeting time sensitive deadlines means not participating in other activities and for people serving smaller churches or on smaller teams, this can be particularly isolating.
But the rewards are great — especially in this digital age (as I write this in April 2023).
Not long ago I shared a short “reel” video on our church social media pages.
According to the metrics, I reached over 300 people not otherwise connected to our church.
I am always in awe of God but I was particularly amazed. There I was – in that particular moment struggling with feelings of loneliness and feeling disconnected — and God used me to help reach more people with a one minute video than most churches reach on a Sunday morning.
I realized in a small way, I am connected to those people and I am helping them connect to a church (albeit a church social media account) and ultimately — I hope and pray — to Him.
And as I read comments and interactions to our social media posts, I realize those posts — and the platforms — are providing a source of connection to some people.
My plan was for people to feel connected.
My plan was for people to know Jesus.
God has determined the steps.
God — who is the same. Yesterday, today, and forever.
Is it still a struggle? Some days. Not always. Not even usually or mostly, but some. A few.
Looks like God has given me a theme: who, what, where, why, and how. Maybe not necessarily in that order.
“Who” could really cover a wide range. You’re building communications platforms for both the public and your private church family (your church members).
Let’s go back to my why (read my previous blog post)
It probably won’t shock you to know that my focus tends to be on outward facing communications. Website and social media platforms are geared specifically towards the public, usually those outside the church.
Admittedly, I’m less gifted when it comes to internal communications. This looks like helping your church members know what’s happening (when is summer camp and what’s the deadline to sign up?).
This also looks like helping people take next steps (which I do love), like finding a small group or a place to serve.
So our church started 21 Days of Prayer and Fasting. Many churches do this. I think it’s a good thing.
Then our Pastor wanted it everywhere — on all social platforms.
Nope. Our public isn’t gonna get it. They’ll think we’re crazy. I mean, we are a little bit, but we don’t promote that – ummm – publicly.
But as I’m just a volunteer, I usually just do whatever the staff tells me to do without giving too much pushback.
So I’m posting videos and prayers to all platforms and wouldn’t you know it — God is working in me.
Our reach (reaching people) is lower. But our engagement (mostly our church members) is increasing. Not every day but many.
This means we’re serving the body of Christ well. This means our church is growing spiritually.
And while the marketer in me is still a little cringing, the church member in me is learning more each day what it means to serve our church and watch our church family grow.
And I can’t think of a better way to serve our community.
I get the fantastic privilege at our family’s church of hosting our live stream.
I also get to help build a communications team – this team eventually will lead our church in multiple areas of communications, but for this post, I’ll stay laser focused on hosting the Sunday morning livestream.
While livestream hosting could certainly be simply welcoming people, and keeping the convo rolling – that’s really just a small piece of it.
It’s so much more.
It’s knowing who is online and why.
Are they church members sick or traveling?
Are they online previewing to see if they might make an in-person visit?
Studies show that people “attend” an online church service — or otherwise engage with a church online — 5-6 times before visiting a church in person.
Your online presence is a big front door.
As an online hosts you get to know people — I’ve heard churches refer to people online as their online congregation.
And while nothing can compare to the in person experience, I do want the people online with me each week to know they are a valuable and integral part of our church. And I want them to know they have a real, in-person, online host, not a chatbot.
A host that cares for them.
For myself — and for any new host who comes on board — I go to great lengths to set up our livestream host tools.
Copy and paste ready prayer prompts for a host.
Names of people being recognized — for baptism or child dedication.
I even have a copy and paste ready host sign off note.
I have a spreadsheet of how many people each week are on each of our streaming platforms.
Why? People need Jesus and we have platforms available to us to share the gospel.
But then there’s production.
And I know just enough about production to know that I don’t know enough about production.
I know what a stream key is.
I know the difference between a link and an embed code.
I know the difference between real live and simulated live.
I know what an encoder is. And why we need one.
I know just enough.
But not enough.
We have a rock solid producer. She’s amazing!
But then there’s the hardware.
And the last two weeks our computer has died.
Shut down. Restart. Blue screen of death. No power. Done. Died. Dead.
No post service video editing. No app updates. No YouTube updates. No sermon clips.
No engaging with our people online.
No sharing the gospel outside the four walls of our church.
And yes, there is absolutely no substitute for the in-person experience.
As a leader, I couldn’t help but feel like I’d let people down.
I’d left my team unequipped.
The live-stream hosst: what do I do when the stream stops?
The post-service video editor: There is no video to edit. How can I help? What can I do?
I felt — in a small way — responsible for letting our viewers down.
I know it wasn’t my fault.
Believe me. I know this.
Logic tells me it’s not me.
But my heart hurts.
As a leader, when people are hurting, you take that hit.
I’m still walking through things with my latest coaching client.
To recap, this is the coaching call that made me do more than press pause. As my new friend was unpacking their situation. I felt strongly that we were walking a similar path.
Scroll back a few posts to see how it started and how I unpacked a lot of layers. (There are lot.)
As I’m helping the person with their walk, I’m finding myself often needing to take my own advice.
I’m also carefully wording these posts to not reveal their identity. I’m keeping a few things purposely vague and have gotten permission to share what I’m sharing.
Where we are now is digging into the why. When I first asked why this person had gone into communications as a ministry, the response was that they thought it would be fun.
I’m not sure “fun” is why anyone should go into any ministry.
Ministry can be hard work. There are tough decisions to be made if you’re in a leadership position (this person is). And there are things that can be discouraging.
In the past I’ve served in First Impressions/Guest Services (my favorite of all ministries and where I hope to serve again one day), Next Steps/Assimilation, Nursery, Pre-School, Student Ministry, and now Communications.
Since I’m now serving in Communications and I’m coaching someone through their own communications ministry, I’ll stay there. But you can apply most of – not all of – these principles to any ministry.
Communications is hard work. It’s also very rewarding.
Building a team takes time, but believe God that they are coming. Start with a vision. Dream. Layout a structure that people can walk into.
At first, you may be the only person in that structure. I have outlined our church’s communications team in to these areas: website and church app, photography, church online livestream hosting, social media, graphic design, and videography/video editing.
Currently I’m a team of one covering all of these areas. I have support from our church’s lead pastor and I’m ready to onboard volunteers when (not if) God brings them. I trust Him to bring the right people at the right time.
In the waiting, you will be tired. The internet never sleeps. Your church will need something communications-related almost every day.
Brief summary so far: expect the beginning of your communications team to be difficult. God will be with you in the difficulty. But expect it. Grab your hard hat and get ready!
Communications is isolating. You’ll be behind a screen when people are praying. You’ll be behind a screen when people are singing. You’ll be behind a screen when people are with people. You’ll get to know your keyboard on a much deeper level. Your face cam will know your expressions more than anyone in your church.
To combat this remember that God has never and will never leave you. People may not know you’re there, but God sees you.
Join some church comm Facebook groups. You’ll make friends there. Try visiting another church during a time yours doesn’t meet. It’ll give you a chance to connect with people and spend time in worship.
Don’t get discouraged at low social media numbers (views, likes, shares, etc.). You’ll have low days and high days. View every day as a gift from God.
Keep believing that as long as you are in God’s will, He will bring the right people at the right time. Did I already say that. It bears repeating. I feel like there’s a song there: Don’t Stop Believing…Hold Onto That Feeling.
Communications is not an easy-entry ministry and a lot of people can’t stay in it. There are deadlines to meet that will take you away from family, friends, and almost everything else. A software company recently made a change that allowed for an automation. In promoting the change, they said a user had said, “you’re giving me the opportunity to have lunch with my family on Sunday.” (Side note: I really need to encourage our Pastor to look into this company…)
But it’s true. You’ll make A LOT of sacrifices. Know they are worth it.
I’m praying for my coaching client. I’m praying for myself. And I’m praying for YOU!
We serve a faithful God and as you’re in His will, expect the blessings.
Then playing the “can you spot the differences” game.
Since it’s been awhile, let’s catch up. I’m Marcy. I’m a follower of Christ. A wife. A mom. I work full time for the best. company ever. I work part time for another fantastic company. And I serve my church.
For my part time job, I’m a Community Manager for a the most awesome Facebook Group ever: Church Comm Leaders. If you’re a leader in church communications, you should be in our group.
Often in that group, a group member will reach out to me for some private advice (coaching).
And here’s where we’re going to pick it up.
See – when you’re dealing with people – there are always issues. You have issues. They have issues. I have issues. We all have issues.
I feel like there’s a song about this, but we’ll talk about that later.
A friend of mine once told me that sometimes people will call you for advice and you’ll realize you’re more messed up than they are. It’s true. And it happened to me – maybe for the first time – this week.
I get the first text – introduction.
I have a problem and you seem like someone who I can trust.
And then this person laid it all out. All of it.
And with every point, I got it because this person was eerily walking on the same path as me.
Every. Single. Point.
Are we the same person?
No. This person lives in another part of the country, but get this – it’s a state I used to live in.
Maybe I left a clone behind when I moved.
I don’t know.
Every. Single. Point.
At the end of the conversation: You always seem so happy. Why am I so sad?
Boom! That hit. Like a punch to the gut. Because that’s what had to be addressed. Oh, we’ll address it all, but first that.
So first, with permission, I give you the twitter version of the person who reached out:
Full time job, also serving church in a communications role.
Loves where and how they’re serving. Gifted in communications. Leading a team, but team is small, Spending almost as much time serving as working, mostly behind a screen at church, so no personal interaction with people. Can’t remember the last time they went to church just to worship.
Um….yeah…so far you could be describing me…and so many other people in so many churches. Believe me, there aren’t just two of us.
Always sad. Crying on the way to church.
The similarities just ended.
And then: why?
And what hit hard was that I couldn’t give an immediate why.
I don’t know.
But doesn’t it all start with the why?
So I literally had to take a few days to go back to my why.
So we’re going to break down EVERYTHING.
Because I guess, on paper, I should be sad. But I’m not.
Let’s start with why anyone in any church should serve in any role.
Someone has already served you. God sent his son Jesus to die on the cross for you. That’s the ultimate service. The ultimate sacrifice. We’re sinful humans. Jesus took our place.
I’ll never serve enough to match that. I won’t even try. But when you switch to viewing serving as an act of worship, you go from “I can’t remember the last time I worshipped,” to “I can’t remember the last time I didn’t worship.” There’s a difference.
Here’s a few other things about serving – for volunteers, church staff, and pretty much anyone who’s still reading this book.
Don’t serve for fun.
Disneyland is fun. But it’s expensive and you’re tired after the day.
The beach is fun. But you get sand everywhere. And sometimes sunburn,
Concerts are fun. But your ears are ringing for hours after.
Sporting events are fun. But you end up disliking the sports officials or the other team.
Junk food is fun. Except weight gain and heartburn.
Fun has exceptions. Fun has limits. Fun ends.
Worship is forever.
Build a team.
Personally, I have a team structure in place. The house is built – and it’s built with expansion in mind. People just have to walk into it. Expect your team to start small. Prepare for that. Don’t be surprised by it.
Know this: communications can feel isolating.
I won’t sugar coat it because too many people get blindsided. You won’t approach the altar or pray with people. You will be behind a screen in the back of the room. You won’t be on stage or in any pictures. You will be behind a screen or behind the camera. You will not have lunch with your family. You will be editing post-service video. In many ways, your life will look like “opposite day” compared to other people. Like an infant having their days and nights mixed up. Your life will be 99% digital and 1% people.
Don’t go into it thinking that being a Communications Director is glamorous. It’s not. It’s hard. It’s tiring. You’ll mostly go unnoticed. Unless there is a problem. Then everyone will know it’s you.
But know it’s a season. Build that team.We’ll go back to this often.
Keep going back to your why and team building.
Not only do I have a structure for growth in place – which I’m excited about – I’ve started making checklists and screen recording everything I do. It’s all to get ready for who’s going to walk into this team structure.
If you’re a volunteer, especially one who already has a full time job, this can be exhausting. I get it. That’s why it’s critical to have a team building mindset from the start. It may take months – or even years to build the team, but God’s timing is always perfect.
If you’re on paid staff, this still applies. A paycheck doesn’t make you immune to burnout. I know because I’ve been there. Whatever ministry you lead should be approached with a team building mindset.
A special note to paid staff
A special note to anyone on paid staff – and I know because I’ve been on a church staff – pay the closest attention to your high capacity volunteers. Invite them to dinner to get to know them – not to talk about church. Get to know their families. The most crushing blow I had as a volunteer was being invited to a volunteer appreciation dinner, but told my husband couldn’t come because he wasn’t serving.
Require a volunteer take off (*away from the church) two Sundays in a row at least every 6 months. Why two? Because the first Sunday they’ll be still worried about things at church. They won’t truly relax until the second Sunday (also make sure they’re off the week between). Require one Sunday off (but still at church) every 6-8 weeks. If you have volunteers in pre- and post-production, this will require sacrifice from other volunteers and staff, but it’s critical to the long-term health of any team.
A high capacity volunteer may (will probably) resist any time off, but it should be enforced.
Encourage and Recognize
One of the best things I ever received as a volunteer was a church email address. It might sound crazy, but it made me feel like what I was doing mattered. I was able to communicate with my team, and even people in other churches using my church email address. I was able to set up accounts with various church comm businesses and stock photo sites using my church email address. Guess how much that costs the church? Nothing. But to a volunteer, it can be everything.
Recognize specific teams from the platform. Do a “Get In The Game” sermon series and each week of the series, recognize a team.
Put your teams and leaders on the website. Again this is some free real estate – it will cost your church nothing, but can make your volunteers feel like what they do matters. Volunteer children’s director? That volunteer should be on the website: name and email contact.
Do you have a team that’s a team of one – or two? Give your smallest teams the most attention. Healthy teams are already growing. Small teams will die if you don’t feed them.
This is a two-way street. If a volunteer has a full time job, they will probably volunteer nights and weekends. Your (staff) 10am text or email, might get a reply at 6pm. If you’re a volunteer and your church staff has official office hours, don’t expect a reply to your 9pm email until office hours the next morning.
It’s critical to respecting boundaries.
And finally – Why am I happy?
I guess, on paper and according to my friend this week, I shouldn’t be happy.
So if you see anything good or happy in me, I’ll attribute it to the work of The Holy Spirit.
It’s a choice.
Are there days I’m tired? Yes.
Feel isolated and disconnected? Sometimes.
Miss going to church just to sing and listen to the message (device-free)? Occasionally.
Wish I could spend Sunday afternoon out with my family or doing something fun? Almost weekly.
But, then you realize you’re serving a risen savior who literally carried his own cross up a hill and took nails that were meant for you, it makes it not only easier, but joyful.
If you haven’t already read it, start here. That’s the post that got my little piece of the internet noticed.
Not like National News Noticed, just more noticed than usual. I’m usually okay with being not noticed.
I don’t typically add my name or watermark to the graphic. You don’t know I edited the video, produced the website, made the copies, bought the coffee cups, or that I was the voice behind the social media post.
But in this case, something was definitely different. I really needed people to know what happened. Because it wasn’t really about me. It was about people who didn’t know who Jesus really is.
One week ago, I realized who didn’t like or trust us – the church.
I realized why they didn’t like or trust us – the church.
And for a brief glorious and, at the same time, scary horrible moment, I was in two worlds.
I was one of us. I was the church. I was being like Jesus would be and I was doing what Jesus would do.
But I was also one of them.
“You’re right. I feel unloved, unwanted, left out on a limb, stranded on base, unprepared, a bit uncomfortable, forgotten, angry, and seriously hurt.”
“…church people suck…”
I talked with a few friends.
They saw that you were human. • They saw you have the same feelings they do • You dropped the Christian mask.
Dropped the mask.
I don’t even know how to wrap this up.
I’ve got nothing quotable, or funny, witty, or clever.
Yesterday they showed up. Same bench. They went to church with my husband, son, and I.
We took them to lunch after church.
They saw and heard something different yesterday.
I know it was different because they want to go back.
They said everyone was kind to them.
They want to go back.
They trust us to meet us again this Sunday. Same time. Same bench.
I cannot believe it….they actually want to go back.
I ran through a few different titles for this blog post.
The Character Of God
God’s Word Doesn’t Change
Get Your Freaking Communications In Order
The Most Un-Marcy Thing To Do Ever
How Could You Leave Me Hanging Like That
I’m writing this one for two reasons. 1) People need to know. 2) I don’t want to forget.
It all started with a service opportunity.
So far, so good.
It didn’t involve anything I might typically do.
No graphics, no guest services, no social media, no database.
This one was boots-on-the-ground. Downtown. Serving our city’s homeless community.
I think we’ve already established what Marcy would do. I’ll babysit your kids so you can go serve, then you send me pics of you serving and I’ll post them to your organization’s social media pages so all the world can know just how awesome you are.
(Read that with a slight hint of sarcasm. None of us – me, you, all y’all – are even close to awesome. Not even close.)
So… I checked the date, time, and location of this serving opportunity against a few other things I had that day (all 38,000 of them).
I realized I would be in the right place at the right time and had a few hours to spare.
What I’d typically do in that situation would be to load up a laptop and find the closest coffee shop.
That’s what Marcy does.
But I agreed to serve.
Two days before the event, I received a confirmation text.
Document timeline. Midweek: opportunity is posted for Monday. Saturday: personal text confirming Monday.
Pause: this WAS NOT, in any way, organized by my church. This was an outreach by a third party organization who (I’m absolutely assuming here), contacted various churches for help.
However, my only communication for or about it was from our Lead Pastor.
Here’s a pro tip: don’t make your Lead Pastor the point person for communications. It’s not their job. Communications will fail. Find a volunteer and put the ball in their court. Anyone who throws the LP under the bus after reading this post, should read that again.
Let’s get back to it. We left off with the personal text confirming Saturday. Address – check. Carpool with us or meet you there? I’ll meet you there. Good to go.
Monday morning I arrived at the appointed location, at the appointed time. My role: help set up a tent, help set out chairs, an organization is going to give haircuts to the homeless community. After setting up tents + chairs, I just get to pray with and for people.
I can do this.
I even left the house without my laptop!
I arrived 15 minutes early, found an open parking lot directly across from the location, arranged to sell a kidney, and paid for parking (another pro tip: if you want to make real money, go into the parking lot business.)
I’m only 10-15 minutes early. Surely there should be some activity.
Just three guys, sitting on a bench under an awning, in front of a store across the street.
Me: suburban mom in an unfamiliar part of downtown that seemed eerily inactive and three rather rough looking (God, forgive me for judging people based on outward appearance) dudes across the street. Obviously we all saw one another. You couldn’t NOT see one another.
Do I get back in my car, lock doors, and wait for back up while scrolling social media?
I crossed the street, walked directly to them, and said, “hey guys… what’s up?”
That was the start of two hours that changed my life.
I was there to help them get haircuts. They were waiting to get haircuts. but no one else was there.
No haircut people. No other homeless people. And no church people.
We struck up a conversation. All the while, I’m thinking, ‘where are my people? Where are any people?’ I’m quickly making a connection with them… this is crazy… why am I here alone? What am I even doing?
Then these guys decided to take a walk to a few downtown churches – maybe we got the location wrong.
You are not leaving me here alone. I’m going with you.
We weren’t meant to do life alone, and at that moment, my community – my safety, security, and comfort – had become three homeless guys I’d known for roughly 15-20 minutes.
So there I am, walking through downtown with three homeless guys, hoping that at the next turn, we’re going to see a tent and people.
No tent. No people.
We made our way home – back to the familiar bench in front of the store, under the awning, across from my car.
We talked. I asked them about their lives. What happened to them? Why are they homeless? Why they’d rather live on the streets than in a shelter? What are they learning from this? What’s their plan to turn their lives around?
I texted our Pastor (again, don’t expect your LP to field this stuff – ever):
Where are you? • What is going on? Am I in the right place?
I get a text back: the event was canceled.
(Heads up: I’ll serve the church I’m a member of for free as your church comm person; scroll back a few posts. If I strongly believe in you or your organization, you get me for free on a volunteer basis.)
Another incoming text: I’m so sorry.
You’re going to be sorry. • I feel forgotten. Left out. Unwanted. Not thought of. • You’ve really screwed up my day/life. How could you, you completely selfish idiot? • It’s okay. God meant for me to be here. I get to talk to them about Jesus.
Don’t lose it. • Hold it together. • Build a relationship. • I’m a fish out of water. • Talk about Jesus. • Share your story. • Why am I even here? Don’t leave here.
And then the moment. One of the guys says this happens all the time.
The preachers come on Sunday. They tell us people are coming. People don’t come.
Preachers = God / Jesus
People are coming = God / Jesus are coming
People don’t come = God / Jesus doesn’t come
This is the basis for their belief system.
I told them I was so sorry for this experience. This isn’t at all how Jesus is.
And one guy said, “we feel bad for you.”
Because your people didn’t show up either.
And I lost it. I openly sobbed and poured out the train wreck to three homeless guys.
You’re right. I feel unloved, unwanted, left out on a limb, stranded on base, unprepared, a bit uncomfortable, forgotten, angry, and seriously hurt.
Honestly, in this moment, I want to tell you that church people suck because we do. And the one I attend – in that moment – was the worst offender.
Yep. I’m out. Over done. Church is not for me.
I didn’t immediately pull out the YouVersion Bible app and meet them with scripture.
I just shared personal experience. Every time I’ve been in a valley, down, broken, near the end, Jesus stepped in. It’s been rough – comparatively no where near as rough as where they are – but it definitely hasn’t been easy. And every single time, in unexplainable ways, God was there.
Then. After all that, I gave them scripture. I pointed out how His promises were true. Every time.
In the end they acknowledged that not all churches (or church people) must be that way, because I showed up.
What!? Did God just use my broken, messed up, train wreck of a life to reach them? Maybe. I think I cried even more at that.
They agreed to meet my husband and I at that same bench on Sunday morning and go to our church with us (I’m praying they actually show up and go).
We hugged and parted ways.
And what I realized is that when the church isn’t there, many believe that Jesus isn’t there.
But I know that when the church isn’t there, that’s when you know Jesus really is there.