Insanely Great!

January 30, 2012

Pat Furgerson approached me recently and asked if I’d write an article on the nZone from the perspective of a non-staff, but super-involved, New Life person. I said, ‘Pat, not only would I be willing to, I’d LOVE to…’ In fact, I literally dropped everything I was doing to write the first draft.

From my perspective (I’d love to be able to speak from Tim Jones’ perspective, but sadly I’m limited to my own), it would be virtually impossible for me to be any more excited about the nZone. I had high hopes for the building as construction started and I’m even more excited now than I was the day the building plans were first announced. Here’s why…There has been a lot of talk, among church leaders around America, about the difference between what is called attractional and incarnational ministry. Attractional ministry refers to the creation of an event (or series of events) designed to —wait for it— ‘attract’ people to visit or attend. Incarnational ministry on the other hand refers to we, the body of Christ, going out into the world to get involved in those activities or hobbies or causes in which those far from Christ are already involved. The goal of either ministry style, of course, is to help people far from Christ come to kn ow Him.

My take is that both are essential and to whatever degree people argue that one is more important than the other I believe they are creating a false dichotomy. In a perfect world they would work together, but often there is a significant gulf between the two. Obviously, inviting people to a church like New Life is one example of attractional ministry that can be effective. But we also need to engage non-believers outside the church (incarnationally). Most often, this happens over a period of time and may not immediately motivate someone to set foot in a church because a church feels like foreign territory. That said, we must also get out of our comfort zone and engage those who are not believers and demonstrate love, our faith, and ultimately the Gospel wherever and however we can… on their turf.

Whatever it is that we are already involved in provides an opportunity for us to build relationships with others and to ask God to use us in the lives of those He puts in our paths. In one of my favorite passages about ministry, Jesus sends the disciples out into the world and says “I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, therefore be as shrewd as serpents and as innocent as doves.” I take that to mean we are to be strategic and thoughtful (shrewd as serpents), yet authentic and loving (innocent as doves).

You are probably wondering what this has to do with the nZone… Only everything! The nZone provides one of the single greatest opportunities I’ve ever seen (in any ministry context) for an incarnational and attractional model of ministry to work together seamlessly.

Over the last 8+ years, I have really enjoyed being involved in SYA (the Southwestern Youth Association), as a parent and as a basketball coach. My kids have played baseball, soccer, basketball, and lacrosse in SYA and are involved in SYA virtually year-round. I have made wonderful friends (both Christian and non-Christian), some of whom I suspect will be lifelong friends. And I have enjoyed wonderful opportunities for ministry. Even today, as I write this, I have exchanged several text messages with a parent of two different kids I’ve coached (in four different seasons) whose husband was undergoing surgery today. She asked me to pray and of course I did, She then texted me updates about the surgery throughout the day. SYA has been fantastic for my kids on the sports level, and at the same time has provided opportunity after opportunity to watch God use my wife and I in the lives of others. This is what incarnational ministry is all aboutā€”simply getting involved in people’s lives wherever you are. And yet it is not always easy to make the jump from knowing and relating to non-believers outside of the church to talking about spiritual things or even getting them to visit church.

The insanely great thing about the nZone is that it provides the perfect bridge, so the jump is no longer so large.

Since the nZone opened, I have been in the building often. Whether to drop a kid off at big group, or to coach a girls basketball team, or to bring middle and high-school kids to the Hangout on Friday nights, it feels like I’m the building several times per week. Whenever I drop off kids, I very rarely just drop them off; I make it a point to wander in, to see who I know that might be there. Virtually without exception, I have run into a parent (usually more than one) who I have known through SYA or CYA and who is in the building for a soccer or lacrosse practice or some other event. I have been AMAZED at how many times I’ve “accidentally” (ok, not—God knows what He is doing) run into people who I’ve invited to church in the past or sought to engage spiritually. And the building itself has resulted in my friends (often non-believers) initiating spiritual conversations with me.

How great is that?? Internally I almost start laughing when I turn the corner from the main hallway toward the fields because I’m already thinking “OK God, who am I going to see today?”

Granted, part of this is because I have children the same ages as many parents who bring kids to the nZone now, but the vision, to create a space that the community uses 6.5 days per week, is working. Even non-believers who have not seemed willing to jump into spiritual conversations have been effusive in praise for the vision of our church. I’ve even had a number of conversations with people who haven’t even been to the nZone yet by using the nZone as a conversation starter.

I am thrilled by the fact that we are getting hundreds (even thousands?) of non-believers walking through our doors each week. They may not come to church this Sunday, next Sunday or even next month. But every single time someone walks through the door I have to believe that the building (to them) feels more and more like “their turf” and not foreign soil and thus becomes that much more likely that (if and when they ever DO decide to visit a church) they won’t have to think long about where to go.

So is the nZone attractional, or is it incarnational? My answer is yes… It is both. And for someone who had very high hopes for the nZone, the reality, so far, has indeed been *way beyond* what I could have imagined.

-Patrick Dennis

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