My wife and I live in a condo complex near Dallas, Texas. Generally speaking, we enjoy condo life: There’s no yard to mow, we enjoy proximity to the city for a reasonable price, and we share a common front porch with neighboring units. So whenever we sit out there, we meet our neighbors. We interact with them and get to know who they are—all with the hope of showing them Jesus.
One day, as I sat outside sipping a cold drink and contemplating the nature of the universe, my next-door neighbor poked his head out and asked if he could join me. A 78-year-old sci-fi author, he and I sat picking apart specific philosophical incongruences we found in politics before he finally asked what I thought about God.
We talked for 20 minutes or so when another neighbor joined in. At one point, there were four of us discussing our varying beliefs, how we came to be, and whether we are alone in the universe. The evening was seared into my memory, because it was one of the few times I had actually sat on my front porch since moving in about two years ago. And the more I sat outside my home, the more I interacted with neighbors. As I had conversations with these people from different backgrounds and belief systems, I was increasingly asked about God.
We as the church need to reclaim the front porch. Before television and the advent of the Internet, back when central air was something unimaginable, people sat on their front porch for entertainment. It was a place every neighborhood had, and it was the hub for discussion.
“You saw me as a person and invited me into your community, no questions asked. You didn’t care that I wasn’t like you. All of you simply loved me.”
One of my closest friends went on a short-term mission trip to Zambia, where he worked with orphans. He talked about the dark spiritual practices still present in that part of the world, like witch doctors “praying” demons into young children. He said spirituality in that country is very “in-your-face”—darkness is obvious.
“I think spiritual warfare is so different here, because it seems that if we Christians can be numbed, then the enemy wins,” he said after returning home. “If we isolate ourselves within our homes and aren’t the church that the world around us needs, then we fail.”
There’s another “front porch” I often frequent—the coffee shop. A major reason behind Starbucks’ great success has been its redefining of the place where people gather. The company managed to create a location where folks felt at home. In my early college days, Starbucks was the place to hang out. I’m still in touch with quite a few people I met there years ago.
Shirley is one of those people. A woman in her early 20s, she was a barista steadily working her way through an undergrad program when we met in 2005. Shirley was a quiet soul whom I befriended over several weeks. I introduced her to my friends, and a strong connection developed. We invited Shirley to our Bible study, which met every Tuesday night. At first she declined, but several weeks later she showed up. As timid as a child among strangers, she wove her way through the 30 or so people crammed into our home. I caught her after the study and asked what she thought. She said that she liked it and had never heard there was good news surrounding Jesus.
Week after week she came to study, and we often interacted with her at the coffee shop. One night in March—the group having grown to include a large number of people who wouldn’t consider themselves Christians—we talked in detail about the gospel. Shirley began to open up about her childhood, recounting through sobs the abuse she experienced. Finally, she told us that when we first met her, she was cutting herself so that she would feel something. “You were the only people who engaged me,” she said. “You saw me as a person and invited me into your community, no questions asked. You didn’t care that I wasn’t like you. All of you simply loved me.”
That night Shirley gave her life to Jesus, and nothing was ever the same. She was no longer timid, and she stopped cutting herself. Shirley found hope in Jesus through a community of people who simply decided—and showed through their actions—that Jesus was for everyone.
Shirley wasn’t the only one who became a Christian through our community’s “front porch.” Life change was a regular part of what happened there. From the atheist to the Buddhist, the conservative to the liberal, many people discovered Jesus through the intentional time we spent connecting with others.
Even today, I go to a local coffee shop to interact with my larger community in the desire to share the hope within me (1 Pet. 3:15). If you don't have a front porch at home, find the place where your community gathers, and join the conversation going on there. The point is not necessarily to sit on a deck chair and wait for people to come to you. Rather, aim to connect with your community where you live, work, and play. What the world needs is a group of people who engage others with love. Let’s be missional and reclaim the front porch—you never know when a cup of coffee and a kind word can turn someone’s world upside down.