I am often asked what makes Christ Church “work.” In a time in which many parishes struggle to grow and thrive, there is often the impression that we have the recipe for the secret sauce, and that all one needs is the recipe. Resources, tools, tips, and programs - these are the stock-and-trade of the modern church. But, is that the secret sauce? The answer I give is usually this: There is no secret sauce. We do the basics and do them well. This week, I received a note from a parishioner in another parish in the diocese:
Good morning Fr Lee! I’ve heard a lot of amazing things about Christ Church Waco and that your young family attendance (and membership) is booming! We are a small parish in [city redacted] and I was wondering if you have any resources or tips you could share to help us grow and build up young families and to help invite them to our church?
I want to share with you an expanded version of my response, which I have also shared with the excellent laywoman who asked it originally:
The first answer was that no, there aren't really any resources. We live in an age so driven by consumerism that most churches live or die by the resources they consume - Sunday School curricula, video series, boxed programs, and the like. The trouble with these things is that they obscure, even evade, the Gospel context for the kind of relationships and teaching which the Church ought to live out. At Christ Church, we have put forward a bread-and-butter approach including catechesis for all ages, serious preaching, liturgy oriented God-ward, and a heavy emphasis on humble service and hospitality. We seek to bring people of all ages to maturity through a process of teaching and formation. It’s not perfect, but in an age where catechesis and basic Christian teaching are rare, this has been very effective. The truth of the matter is, if the Lord can rely on your Church to make disciples, He’ll send people your way.
The second answer I gave, and in fact, the most important, is that we pray intentionally for the Lord to bless our feeble efforts with His grace. We actively and regularly intercede for those who have never known the love of Jesus, and ask that we would be used powerfully to evangelize the lost and have opportunities to serve them and ultimately catechize them! We take the call to make disciples seriously, and understand that this is a work which begins in prayer.
The third answer is that we have placed a heavy emphasis on hospitality, especially to children in worship. Saint Benedict wrote in his rule that the visitor to the monastery is to be welcomed as Christ himself. We have sought to exemplify this by welcoming little ones, and providing excellent children’s catechesis and nursery care for parents that desire it. Children are invited to gather around the Gospel procession. They are taught to sing hymns and participate in the liturgy. But, hospitality isn’t just about welcoming children, it’s about living lives that are open. This doesn’t mean checking in on each other to make sure that our households or lives are up to snuff. It means living out lives of regular connection and care. I love what Rosaria Butterfield says, “Hospitality is not a house inspection, it’s friendship.” Butterfield has put her finger on a disease in the Church - that of putting on a show instead of offering real Christian fellowship - koinonia - the Greek word used in the New Testament for “being as one.” She also writes:
"When we are too functional, we forget the point of hospitality in the home: fellowship, not entertainment. Don't let pride stop you from opening your home. Ignore the cat hair on the couch (or in the mac and cheese). It likely won't kill anyone as decisively as loneliness will. Add as much water to the pot to stretch the soup. If you run out of food, make pancakes, and put the kids in charge of making that meal. See how much fun that is.”
The bottom line is this: at Christ Church, I think we’ve come once again to the conclusion that the Christian life and witness, the faith we hold and the God we love, are of such surpassing worth that the only thing we can do is share. We have to overturn the bushels which obscure the light of the Gospel, and be once again, the city on the hill that cannot be hid. (Matthew 5:14)