Pastor’s Column: Evangelism Through Community, Coffee and Badminton
Sharing the Gospel Starts with Community
At Hillside Church, everything we do is oriented around and founded upon the gospel— the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. It is this news that has implications for all of life—from the interpersonal private aspects of our daily lives, to the public, political, scientific, and social sectors of life. The news of Christ’s ascension affects everything. Therefore, in our attempt to tell others about the gospel, we start with community.
Community is essential for discipleship and for spiritual formation. Out of community, then, we create a context that is both nonthreatening and mutually interesting. The notion of “non-threatening” simply means that people know exactly what to expect and have a previous experience of some sort.
The second aspect to our context is a mutually interesting activity—so people are coming because they know what to expect and they are interested in it. These two principles allow for genuine relationships to begin and to flourish without any sort of bait-and-switch mechanism at play.
Running a Coffee Shop
There is nothing threatening about a coffee shop. Everyone loves a good cup of coffee, right? So, we created a coffee shop – Mugshots Coffee Company – that has two specific functions. First, it is a place for evangelism and discipleship. Millennials are the next generation, and if we are going to be true to the gospel, we need to be thinking about how to evangelize and disciple them faithfully. Due to our increasingly post-Christian cultural context, it is becoming more common for people to never set foot in Sunday service. Millennials are perhaps the largest generation who are disinterested with religion as a whole, so we need to go where they are.
Since the church is not a building but a people who have been given a mission to go and make disciples, this coffee shop is our initiative to get beyond our walls to build relationships in a non-threatening context for the purpose of proclaiming the gospel. Therefore, our baristas are trained to hospitably engage with our customers in what we call “intentional conversations.” These conversations are where the baristas are able to build relationships with the customers by getting to know them, seeking ways of engaging them thoughtfully and charitably with the gospel, and praying for them. The goal of these conversations is the love and truth, not bible-bashing. As customers become familiar with the baristas, they are able to discern their genuine care for them, and sense their love. Only then will they be able to receive the more challenging parts of the gospel.
Millennials and Authenticity
Evangelism looks different to different generations due to the evolution of cultural values and principles over time. Millennials are very relational and crave authentic relationality, therefore, if there is any sense of phony-ness or superficiality they won’t buy in. Millennials generally want a safe community where they can become vulnerable and be known by others. Evangelism to the Millennial generation must be highly relational and genuine, otherwise, it will seem like a product. We do not believe, however, that this is the only way to evangelize. We simply see that it is a way of evangelizing through the context of authentic community, and also a means of contributing to society in a positive way through doing good work to the glory of God.
Cultivating Good Coffee
This brings me to the second function of Mugshots which is to do good work that promotes human flourishing. In Genesis, God commanded Adam to do good work by cultivating the garden and stewarding creation. Even though Adam fell, the command for God’s people to cultivate and steward creation does not change but gets repeated in the New Testament. As the apostle Paul says in Colossians, “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (3:17). We as the church are to cultivate and steward everything in a way that glorifies and honors God. Coffee is composed of a variety of materials that, when made well, contributes to a proper stewardship over creation and a delightful (and creative) drink for the customer to enjoy. Mugshots is based on the gospel, which means that our view of customers, our marketing, our products, our efforts, our attitudes, the upkeep of the shop, and the relationships we have with our vendors all reflect what we believe about God, and ought to reflect the glory of God.
Badminton League Reaches Diverse Community
At Hillside, our framework for doing ministry is pretty simple. We have a paradigm that centers everything we do on “pursuing God” and out of that we simply want to build people up in the gospel and commission them out to make disciples in any context they’re passionate about. One of our members is passionate about badminton. He brought his desire to Hillside, and now we have a Wednesday evening and a Saturday afternoon devoted to competitive, yet friendly games of badminton!
On account of badmintons popularity in Eastern countries, we have a diverse community of 150 folks coming to play badminton—the vast majority are non-Christian! Now we have a team of Hillside members who are being intentional about making friends, inviting folks over for dinner, and into their small groups. One participant told me directly that he appreciates Hillside badminton over other more competitive leagues “because of the community.”
Finding Christ in the Context of Community
We start with the gospel and seek out its implications. Then we empower others to dream about what God might be calling them to do. As a leadership, we continue to support, pray, and encourage them in every way we can. The path to choosing Christ might look different depending upon the church you are involved in. For Hillside Church this happens in the context of community. Because the body of Christ is composed of different parts for different functions, it’s great to be formed in the context of community where one can be shaped more holistically through many people. That’s why community is important.
The path is not always as clear-cut, but there are identifiable stages for measuring progress. As non-Christians are welcomed into community (Small Groups, Mugshots, Badminton, etc.) they are able to experience believers in their relationship with Christ. Then they are able to move from awareness to relevance. Relevance is the stage where Christianity begins to make sense. It becomes logical to follow Christ. After the relevant stage, they begin to see how there is no other way of living their lives. The Christian faith begins to make sense of their reality, and there is no other option than to give themselves over to the Lordship of Christ.
In conclusion, community is inextricably related to our evangelistic endeavors. The gospel comes from the community of the Triune God to the community of God’s people, his church, and then from there goes outward to the rest of the nations.
Brian Gingerich is the Director of Small Groups and Discipleship at Hillside Church in Bloomington. He recently pastored Young Adults in Chicago and managed the missional side of Mugshots Coffee Company, Bloomington, which is owned by Hillside Church.