Some lessons in outreach and hospitality from my local running club

This post is mostly for my church friends, but maybe everyone can find something interesting.

For the past four Wednesdays I’ve been working out with members of the Vendurance Running Club in Ventura. Here are a few observations and how they might relate to the way we welcome (or think about visitors) in our churches.

  1. When you are a new or not so fast (ok…slow) runner, the thought of joining a running club can be intimidating.It is a bit scary to go to a new place and try to participate in an activity with a group of people you don’t know. I remember back when I did not participate in a church and having similar thoughts. I wanted to participate in a church but wasn’t too sure about what to expect or even what to do. Sometimes we might want to participate in something but we never take that step for fear of not fitting in.
  2. Sometimes it takes another activity and an invitation.
    Back in May I joined a training program to prepare for my second running of the Ventura Marathon (more on this later). Joining this was much easier than the running club because it was short term and it was assumed that other less experienced runners would participate (or why have a training program?). This has been great! A few weeks ago the coach, Josh Spiker, mentioned that I’d probably get a lot out of the running club’s track workouts and that I should give it a try. I did and he was correct…I have gotten a lot out of it!What about in our churches? What activities do we have that provide an opportunity outside the church to get to know someone?  To try out the group? And can those activities lead to building relationships… and invitations to maybe…a worship service or other activity in the church? An important caveat is that an invitation is only welcome if it is really for something that would be helpful.
  3. It takes much more than an invitation…it takes an experience in hospitality.
    My first two track workouts were pretty fun. And not too intimidating. This was because there were some other newbies there as well. Women who I had become acquainted with during our Sunday long training runs. an added bonus was that I was able to run faster than some of them! (My strong desire to not be last is something that I need to work on.) None of these women came to the track workouts on weeks three and four. That left me and my daughter (who I’d dragged along) as the two slowest runners on the track.It was a strange feeling, that as I was experiencing great improvement in my own ability to run faster, I was so much slower than everyone else! This could have led me to decide that I didn’t fit with this group of much better runners. It could have, but didn’t because of those very same runners.Why? Their own form of hospitality. So as people passed me (over and over again) they’d say things like: “good job”, “keep it up”, “you’ve got this”, “almost there”, and more. One guy while passing me held out his hand for a low five…I barely made contact and commented “well that was weak!” He another another runner responded with, “no, you’re doing great.” Later a couple of women who were doing their cool down clapped, and with all this encouragement I was able to keep up a pace that a couple months ago I would have never thought was possible. It was very hard and worth every second.

    With all this I am wondering how we are doing in our churches at giving encouragement to those who are new. Do we say hello? Do we offer help when someone looks confused? Do we help people to navigate the sometimes strange world of a worship service? Do we seek to make our guest feel comfortable? Do we let them know that sometimes life is hard but that we are all there to encourage one another? Do we challenge one another? I hope so!

    How have you experienced hospitality?

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