Proclaim it with Flowers
Church buildings are increasingly alien environments to the growing non-churched community, and in my experience, the old pattern of guest services to which Christians invited friends are increasingly ineffective – partly because relatively few Christians seem confident enough to invite their non-Christian friends, and partly because in a well-established church relatively few Christians seem to have non-Christians friends at all. One response to that challenge is to explore more seriously the particular gifts, callings and situation of church members, and build something around those passions. And doing that last year led us into very unexpected territory.
One of our church members has, for the last 25 years, been a passionate flower-arranger. A lovely committed Christian, she had always put her heart and faith into the work, taking very seriously the arrangements and aesthetics of the flowers while decorating the church. For most people, what looked like simply arrangements were often themed with a biblical thought behind them. But as we were planning how best to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible, the idea occurred to us to marry the themes of the beauty of God’s Word in Creation with the beauty of His Word in Scripture. We decided to hold a Flower Festival – the first Cheadle Church has done in living memory – not the usual priority of an evangelical church. Yet sometimes God uses unexpected events as a catalyst for something new.
The festival was held at the end of June 2011 for most of a week. There were roughly 30 themed displays in the church; each taking a phrase of the AV which would be well known, and giving it a visual interpretation. However the accompanying guide explained the biblical background to aid ‘reflection’ on that theme through the display. Inside the church, guides were available to answer questions and help people. Outside the church, we held an open air café – with temporary decking over the gravestones – serving refreshments. And also outside, next to the ancient preaching cross in the churchyard, over the main opening days the King James was publicly read – taking extracts going through the whole Bible. It wasn’t cheap to organise. We had nearly £4000 of costs (flowers aren’t cheap if you do it properly!), but program sales, refreshments and donations (which were unsolicited) recouped nearly all of those costs.
What was most unexpected was the response. Apparently though churches are alien places to visit normally – a flower festival makes them safe! We had well over 1500 different people visit the church over three days. In addition, the local schools who had been involved in constructing one of the displays, came to visit on the last day of the festival- 400 of them too. What was fascinating was how long most people stayed – most stayed over an hour in the church and another hour over refreshments. Some people who came had been local residents for years but never been through the church door – like the local butcher, 20 years living in the community, serving in a shop across the road, but never inside. Significant numbers of people from the community came more than once, bring their friends to see their local church. A local Twitter feed went round saying ‘you mustn’t miss this event’ – and it was not organised by church folk – I wish I’d thought of it! In short, it ended up being the most successful outreach event, in terms of bringing people into significant contact with Christians, that the church has ever done – to have nearly 2000 outsider spending an hour thinking about Christians things!
Of course, not all bridge-building is evangelism. We did have evangelistic services on the Sunday, which attracted 20-25 new faces, and attracted back a number of ‘fringe’ contacts. The Christianity Explored that followed the event had 8 who have come through to commitment. But the legacy of the event lives on. It is still talked about in the village by those outside the church, and it has given us a strong foundation to build on this year in planning large Diamond Jubilee celebrations. And one final spin-off: to see a relatively frail elderly lady, a faithful servant of the church for years, suddenly discover that even her gifts could be used to open the door for gospel work, has been an inspiration not only to me, but to others – whatever your age, whatever your gifts, God can use them to glorify his name and proclaim his kingdom.