By Brad Canning
“Blur the lines between church and community.” Those words were uttered a few hours past midnight as we crafted a vision statement for a church that could become a reality. From the beginning of Church! Of Park Slope, that statement has significantly impacted the way our team views this new church in Brooklyn, New York.
We are the kingdom of God in our neighborhood. We have tried to move beyond defining “church” as a building with pews or as a place where people worship on Sunday. The church is a group of Jesus followers who go into all the world, making disciples as they go.
The church in the book of Acts and New Testament letters changed the world by trying to actively love God and love its neighbors. The early church healed the broken and fed the hungry. Acts talks of the church sacrificing to take care of those in need. When speaking of early Christians, the Roman emperor Julian said, “The impious Galileans support not only their poor, but ours as well.” The church learned from Jesus to eat together, pray together, and serve together. And the church grew as the message about Jesus was shared and people were touched. The church was, above all, active.
Out of the Building
This has been the desire of Church! Of Park Slope from the beginning—to let the kingdom of God out of the building. To that end, we try to be purposeful in getting our neighbors to interact with Christ followers in a natural way. We have tried to create a face in the community, a place where people are able to find or bump into followers of Jesus regularly, a space where we can surprise people with love.
During the dream stage for Church! I remember taking a prayer walk and bumping into my friend Geoff. As we sat down for coffee in a café, I said, “Wouldn’t this be a great space for a church to own?” From that moment we could not shake the idea that Church! Of Park Slope should have its own coffee shop as the first way to “blur the lines.”
With much prayer and planning and a strategic staff hire, Postmark Café was built, licensed, and opened in Park Slope, Brooklyn. When most people hear about Postmark Café and its church affiliation, they assume the café is a way to get people to attend the church. Some in the neighborhood accused us of proselytizing through the children’s story time. With the passing of time, however, they have come to see us as simply neighbors, and that is a good thing.
Serving Our Neighbors
Today there are more than 25 café volunteers from the church. Our desire is for our neighbors to be pleasantly surprised when they realize these friends from Postmark Café are followers of Jesus. It is fun when people who would never come to a church service strike up conversations with a “pastor in a coffee shop.” Many do not hesitate to come to picnics and other church activities. They have become our friends.
Several times a year we host Christian college students for a visit at Church! Of Park Slope. While trying to explain why we do what we do, I often challenge them to imagine what it would be like to live on a campus where people are suspicious of you just because you are Christian. Then I ask them how they might attempt to show these people the love of Christ. Their answer is the right one—“We would serve them!”
This is our desire at Church! Of Park Slope. Through the coffee shop and other venues we try to find practical ways to serve our neighbors. It may be as simple as smiling and remembering the name of a customer, handing out bags of Christmas cookies, or inviting families to attend our Story Time. We have helped friends from the café move furniture. We have visited some in the hospital. We have gone to neighbors’ weddings, baby showers, parties, and shows.
Faces in a crowd have become friends of the family. As a result, I think many of our new friends have gotten a positive glimpse of Christians. They see the church in a new light as the kingdom of God bumps into neighbors here in Brooklyn. And through it all, yes, the Sunday worship attendance has grown as well. We think this is a big part of what it means to be the church at work in the world.
Brad Canning is pastor and team leader at Church! Of Park Slope. Learn more at www.churchofparkslope.org.