Our grand experiment began the first Sunday after Memorial Day and immediately trouble appeared on the horizon...or more accurately the street. "Guess who's coming down the driveway," said my wife. She used that ominous tone that suggests a situation requiring the pronouncement of an authoritative paternal decree. I knew full well who was coming down the driveway. The crowd of 10 children playing in the sandbox, kicking soccer balls, and scanning the stream for rare aquatic species was sure to attract him. I sighed heavily. "I don't suppose it would be very consistent with the whole 'missional' thing for us to send him back home." We considered consulting with the other parents present but it was no use. I knew what I had to do and thus headed out the side door in order to confront "The Aggressor."
Leaning over the required two feet necessary to get in my adversary's grill I asked, "Would you like to come over and play with our kids and their friends? "His head nodded vigorously in the affirmative. "You may. But you need to understand something." Silence, except for the sound of us both beginning to sweat. "At our house we do not call people mean names, especially not 'Butthead.' If you do I will have to ask you to go home. Yes sir?"
And so it went from there. A few minutes later everyone, including "The Aggressor," was chatting merrily and enjoying hot dogs and potato chips. When we finished eating the kids continued their backyard adventures, with different ones providing occasional peace-of-mind reports to us throughout the evening. Meanwhile we parental units discussed issues related to that morning's sermon, ranging from "I'm pretty sure he never told us what word goes in the third blank of the outline," to "I think I really needed to hear this and could do a better job living it out." (See, we do go to church. We just don't meet there for our discussions.) We laughed a lot, puzzled a little, and prayed together. Afterward the kids were rounded up, popsicles distributed, a few lightning bugs caught, and then all headed home.
We had survived. In fact it seemed we rather enjoyed ourselves. The experiment has continued almost every Sunday night throughout the summer, rotating between our several families' homes. When it comes to our house "The Aggressor" has become a regular fixture. There have been burgers, barbecues, crockpots, pancakes, and cold cuts. If someone missed the sermon for some reason there's been no shaming. It simply becomes everyone else's task to summarize. In addition we've been pleasantly surprised by how much our children look forward to the weekly gatherings, having cataloged the unique benefits attributable to each basement and backyard involved in the experiment.
As summer wanes, the days grow shorter, and school approaches our little group is now confronted with the task of defining what it is that we believe makes it valuable. It's no longer an experiment after all. It seems to have become part of our lifestyle. But there's no arguing that it would be simpler in many respects to meet at the church on Sunday morning when everyone's already there and the kids are in Sunday School. Or Wednesday night when there's a big dinner and the nursery is available. Thus the last time we met the question was posed: Why go to this trouble?
For starters we decided there's a comfort level associated with meeting in a home as opposed to an institution. By no means is the institution, i.e. the church, bad. We love it very much and consider its presence, both spiritual and physical, a tremendous and essential blessing. But when you think about it in general terms institutions are usually where knowledge is imparted. Homes are where it is applied. Our homes and the simple meals that are shared there lend themselves to greater depth of relationships...and all you need is to make sure there is a spray bottle of carpet cleaner handy. I also feel it is important to mention that we closely adhere to an unwritten rule: No one is allowed to clean too well before the rest of us show up lest an unattainable precedent be set.
Another one of my personal favorite aspects of home-based church groups is that they combat age segregation. Even if all the kids, teens, and adults do is hang out and eat together before respectively playing, catching a ride to practice, and discussing the week's Bible passage, there is a learning how to live together that is taking place. Older kids are sometimes capable of taking responsibility for younger ones, but maybe they just want to do their homework in the next room. Occassionally they may choose to participate in the adults' discussion. Stranger things have happened. It just depends on the people involved.
And finally, speaking of the people involved, "The Aggressor" (I should probably stop referring to him as such) would never have become an honorary member of our group or my family had we met at the church. Our hunch, indeed our hope is that inviting people who do not attend church or profess faith in Christ into our homes to share a meal with friends (or friends' kids) is much less of a stretch than inviting them to church for a class. After all normal people do eat with guests from time to time, whereas not everyone goes to church. Granted, we're not hiding the fact that we sit around and talk about Jesus after dinner, but dinner gives us time to chat about the news, tease the kids, and exchange recipes first. For these reasons we think our experiment has been a mild success; one that we hope to build on and invite others to embark upon and see what happens.