- 9 and 10:45am, 5pm
Orlando, Florida, 2008
The parking lot was full and I was nervous and about to have a double rude awakening. Others had fancy bags over their shoulders while I had a tattered paddle stuck in my belt in the small of my back. No one said a word to me as we walked into the large gymnasium and waited in the registration line. The person sitting behind the registration desk simply said: “Sign here, the cost is $20, wait in those bleachers.” And so it was as I waited to play my first match at a large table tennis association. “Pastor Bob, I didn’t know you were such a ping pong ninja. How did that happen?” Thanks for asking.
Tacey and I sensed God leading us to plant a new EPC church in Orlando in 2008. We knew one couple, but other than that not a soul. There was no core group. So I did what most church planters do (and what all believers should be doing) – I started to look for opportunities to meet and befriend people who probably don’t know Jesus. I joined a local gun club that yielded one new friendship. Then I saw an ad in the local paper for a table tennis club. Cool, after all I was the reigning ping pong champion of the Hopper household (although Tacey would give me a run for my money – she is so competitive and needs to repent of that).
The Lord, in His kind providence, taught me two things that night. First, I am not a very good ping pong player (I got crushed in every match I played). Second, many visitors to many churches feel the exact same thing when they visit on a Sunday morning. Through our neglect, they feel intimidated, invisible, and unwelcome. This ought not to be so.
At Central, we are doing something about that. In fact, it is the primary reason we have changed our service times and designated our Fellowship Hall for . . . fellowship! Starting this Sunday, our new schedule begins. We thank the Lord for Julie Krauss and all the volunteers who made our summer brunches so spectacular. Now we embarking on a exciting and intentional journey to transform Central into a warm and welcoming place for those whom the Lord brings to us as visitors. Consider a few ways that this new schedule will help us be more visitor-friendly.
Imagine that from parking lot orange-vested volunteers, greeters, ushers, and congregants our visitors sense that they are welcomed, cared for, and introduced to the love of Christ through each of us! Lessons learned from my ping pong experience place a burden on my heart that the people of God would demonstrate the love of God to people who desperately need to discover the grace of God.
Last Sunday one of our warm and welcoming members invited an unchurched co-worker to Central for their first visit to a Protestant church. Everything was new and strange and unfamiliar. Yet I was so blessed to see how this newcomer was being engaged by our members, and on my way out they made a point to approach me and thank me for what they had just experienced. That, dear friends, is the gospel in action! No one on this planet will perish because they can’t play ping pong. Countless will perish unless they come to know Jesus. We have the great privilege to be the means (secondary cause) to that glorious end. May it be so.
– Pastor Bob
P.S. Don’t forget to take advantage of our excellent Sunday School offerings for all ages. In fact, you might even treat the visitor that you have befriended to a cup of coffee, and then invite them to go with you to one of these classes.