When I moved to California to plant a church I knew that I needed to have some kind of goal. I didn’t want that goal to be one that measured how fast we would grow numerically because I felt like that would put unhealthy pressure to grow at any cost and, potentially, hijack the vision for the church. But I needed a goal nonetheless.
We wanted to engage non-believers and grow through networks and relationships. Our strategy was not to advertise the church but to intentionally engage our networks and neighborhoods and embody the values of the Kingdom of God. In order to accomplish this strategy, we needed to be connected relationally, which was a challenge given the reality I moved from the East coast and wasn’t bringing a team to plant with me.
Setting a Goal
I was parachuting in. By myself. I had a few connections with people in Santa Barbara before I moved but, essentially, I was starting over relationally. I could count on one hand the number of people I knew well. Truth be told, I needed to meet some people. Out of this birthed my strategic planting goal for the first year.
My goal: Meet 3 people every day.
How was I going to meet three people a day? Even for me, an extreme extrovert, this was a pretty big goal.
Before moving I held two assumptions: 1. That God was already working to build His church in Santa Barbara and my job was to join Him in that and, 2. He called me to plant this church so I needed to be fully “me.” With these assumptions under girding everything, here are the top 3 things I did to meet 3 people a day:
Go Where People Are Looking for Relationships
When I first moved to Santa Barbara I looked for every opportunity to join groups and clubs that already existed in town. One such event was listed publicly on Facebook. It was a group workout sponsored by a local gym followed by happy hour at a local brewery. That sounded like a pleasant way to spend an evening so I RSVP’d.
Much to my disappointment, I showed up that evening to find an extremely inhospitable environment. The reason this gym was hosting this event was to recruit new members, I knew that going in. But what I quickly realized was that the reason this gym isn’t growing in its membership is because of the cliquish hostility that someone like me feels when they walk through the doors. This was less true of the staff and owners of the gym than its members but, even still, it might as well have been straight out of scene from the movie Mean Girls. I tried to overcompensate for the environment and be overly hospitable to the other new people like me who came unassuming to what seemed like a fun event. But in the end it was so bad that I got out of there as soon as I could, even skipping the happy hour and the promise of a free beer – That’s how bad it was!
By stark contrast, I joined another club called the Santa Barbara Newcomers Club. It’s a social club designed to help people who have recently moved to town make friends and connections. The club, run by committees, plans social events for almost every day of the week. Hundreds of people doing social things together in order to make friends? Sounds like a church planters dream, right? Indeed!
Your town may not have a Newcomers Club but it is strategic and wise to find where people go to make friends. Ask other people where they connect relationally. Find out how or where newcomers to your town get connected to community. Look for hospitable spaces and environments that foster forming relationships and spend time there. This could be as simple as joining a Meet-up book club or attending a Facebook event. They’re out there.
Do What You Love
One of my fundamental assumptions about planting the church in Santa Barbara was that God called me to plant this church so He must want me to be me in doing it. For this reason I decided that it was worthwhile to do what I love doing and be alert to the people God would connect me with in the process. I joined a running club because I love running. I joined a gym (a different one than the one I mentioned earlier) and a wine club and started a neighborhood book club in my apartment complex. All of these things are things I would do anyway, but I made a decision to do them with expectation that they could be part of God’s purposes in SB.
Not surprisingly, many significant relationships have been formed through doing what I love. The key has been moving the relationship beyond doing that thing we have in common to being friends outside of that context. This takes intentionality. I don’t wait for the other people to initiate. If I sense there is a connection and a level of trust in a new friendship, I find something– anything!– to invite them to.Building relationships in church planting takes intentionality - Becky Lahna Click To Tweet
A few months into living in SB I decided it was time to have a few of my new friends over so I made up an occasion and invited people to celebrate with me. At my house. One of my new friends (who I met through the running group) told me that my invitation was the first invitation into someone’s house that she had received since moving here 5 months prior. She almost cried telling me how much it meant to her because she wanted desperately to make friends in a new town.
Where are you already connected to people through doing something you love? How might you live more intentionally in that space? Who is one person you want to invite into relationship outside of that context? If you aren’t already a part of a club or group that centers around an interest or hobby that you have, what might be one step you could take to do what you love with more intentionality?
Establish a Routine
Most people live their lives routinely. They go to work at the same time, stop at the same coffee shop, grocery shop on the same day at the same time, go to the same classes at the gym, and go to the farmers market at the same time every Saturday. As a church planter, my schedule was anything but routine. In many ways, I thrived on the chaos and unpredictability of it. But it wasn’t good for my soul and it certainly wasn’t good for enacting my 3 people a day strategy. So, instead, I decided to anchor my schedule with regular and predictable rhythms.
My schedule wasn’t entirely predictable but it had enough regularity that I began seeing the same people week after week. They became my coffee shop friends or my gym friends who I didn’t really know. I wanted to get past that “I see you every Thursday at the coffee shop” relationship to something more personal. The trick was initiating the friendship. And that is exactly what I did. Unapologetically.
It would be impossible for me to count the number of times I have said something like, “I see you here every Thursday morning. I feel like I should at least know your name. I’m Becky. It’s nice to officially meet you.” Surprisingly, my initiation of friendship was rarely met with hostility or even ambivalence. Most of the time, people would welcome the connection. This also worked effectively if I happen to see that person out of our normal routine.
For instance, I was out to dinner with some friends one night and I recognized a girl from the gym. I saw the opportunity and took advantage of it. “I recognize you from Orange Theory,” I said. “Wasn’t yesterday’s class killer?” To which she nods in enthusiastic agreement. “I’m Becky, by the way. What’s your name?” She introduced herself and smiled. Now I know that we have two things in common: OFT and tacos! You better believe I remembered her name and struck up a conversation with her the next time I saw her at the gym! And I did see her. Because she has a routine.
Where could you routinely spend time with the intention of meeting new people and building relationships? If you already have a routine, how might you be more present and expectant there, even praying for connections to be made supernaturally?
Loving Your Neighbor
These simple things made a big difference for me relationally and have led to many significant Kingdom connections. Not everyone has become a part of our church (yet) nor is everyone open to faith. But that is not the point, is it? Sometimes loving your neighbor is as simple as knowing their name and recognizing their presence. This practice has allowed me to do that. And I eagerly expect that more fruit will come from these relationships. I expect and hope the same thing for you.
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