Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Experimenters Discover Unpredictability

For two Saturdays now, we have been out at the neighborhood parks, inviting people to join us for a mini-adventure in thankfulness and a free picnic lunch. The hot dogs were a-roasting, the floats were a-fizzing, and the kids were a-laughing! Those who came seem to thoroughly enjoy meeting their neighbors and playing as a family of God. The theme was Power Lab, but all has not been an experience of predictability, more like an experiment in faithfulness! Let me explain...

We were ready to rumba the first week, with beautiful blue skies and a thoroughly prepared program. But nobody came. And nobody came. And still nobody came! For the first hour, we fought off discouragement with prayer and playfulness, and then took on-the-spot action. Out to the houses, pairs of us went to personally knock on doors and invite the neighbors to lunch. An hour later, people started venturing over for food, family, and fun. Believe it or not, 50-60 people eventually came by (with 80% or more of them there only because of our invitations); like our Christian story itself, defeat was transformed to victory!

This experiment in outreach taught us a few things: 1) you have to invite (with face-to-face contact) not just attract (with signs and decorations); 2) you have to be flexible (willing to change on the spot) and adaptable (responding to what the people are doing or not doing); and 3) every volunteer’s positive spirit is essential (even one whiner would have drained us this day!).

On the second Saturday, we came with a better strategy: do away with the formalized program, set up optional Family Stations, and double the number of inviting teams. Again we were prepared, the team was positively spirited-filled, and decorations were toned down to be less intimidating (who knew lab coats could be scary?!). This time, 45 new families were given personal invitations to lunch, but again, predictability was not to be. Drizzle in the morning gave way to steady rains by lunchtime. Faithful volunteers warmly greeted the 12 who came, and made the best of a soggy situation. Lessons learned this week: 1) you can only control your actions and attitude, not the outcomes or the weather; 2) water-based artwork doesn’t like even a little rain; and 3) count success by people touched, not hot dogs served!

There are still two weekends to go ~ we can’t wait to see what powerful lessons in thankfulness God will teach us next. See you at the park (then again, that isn’t predictable is it? Better to say, “You’ll see us at the park this Saturday; come on over!”)