Hanging Out Is Holy – And Healthy Small Churches Take It Seriously

shoe circle 200I love hanging out with innovative, passionate Small Church pastors.

They have such great stories and they can’t wait to tell them. The more I listen, the more I learn.

We all know the value of hanging out with people who share our heart, don’t we? If we’re honest, most of us who attend ministerial conferences go at least as much for the hangout time in the hallway as for the worship and teaching in the main room.

So why wouldn’t we expect that the people who come to our churches are looking for the same things we are? And why not allow them the space to do that?

As I hang out with my fellow Small Church leaders, I’m seeing that many of the most innovative ones recognize that need and try to meet it. It’s one of a few patterns I see emerging. Patterns that tell me something about what many innovative Small Churches have in common.

Innovative Small Churches have discovered that hanging out is holy. And they make it a priority. You may be more comfortable with the term “fellowship” instead of “hanging out” and that’s fine. That we do it matters far more than what we call it.

I prefer the term “hanging out” because if most people were given the option of attending a church fellowship function or hanging out with their friends… well, the choice is obvious.


Healthy Small Churches Plan For It

If hanging out is holy, we have to be intentional about it. And I’ve noticed that many healthy Small Churches do that by making it a core part of the most important event they have – the Sunday worship service. 

I’ve met with pastors whose churches start their Sunday worship experience with a hangout time, some who end with it, and others, like my church, who plant it right in the middle of the Sunday worship service.

One of the most intentional churches about this is Bull City Vineyard in Durham, North Carolina (See update, below). Last week I had coffee with their pastor, Maggie Mraz, and she told me about their Sunday morning schedule.

  • 9am: Church doors open
  • 9:30 – 10am: Prayer
  • 11am: Church service starts with worship
  • 12:15pm: Church ends because the nearby soup kitchen starts serving lunch
  • 2pm: They close the doors and go home

OK, some people may ask, I get what they’re doing in the church building from 9:30-10am and from 11am-12:15pm, but what’s going on the rest of the five hours their doors are open?

They’re hanging out, that’s what. They’re chatting, shooting the breeze, fellowshipping… Call it what you want, but I call it being the church, and I think that’s what Jesus calls it, too.

Bull City 200During the week the church building, which is a storefront in downtown Durham, has regular hours when they open their doors and encourage people to “Stop in and say hello, sit in quiet, pray, surf the net, rest, watch people out the window, enjoy healthy conversation, eat a PB&J, read the bible together, practice the guitar or enjoy a cup of coffee.”

If you go to their website, you’ll see they have other hangout opportunities, including art nights and open mic nights. One of the key features you’ll find on their website is a slide show featuring the people of the church…you guessed it…hanging out with each other. That’s where the fun photo on the right comes from. I dare you to glance through that slide show of friendly, smiling faces and not think “I would go to that church if I lived in Durham!”

(Update: As of Christmas Day 2013, Bull City Vineyard went on hiatus due to circumstances I can’t disclose. At this point, there do not appear to be plans to relaunch the church.)


Hanging Out Is Not a Magic Bullet

No, a planned time to hang out on Sunday morning isn’t for every church. Nothing but Jesus is for everyone.

So if you don’t have a hangout time scheduled into your Sunday schedule, relax. Patterns aren’t rules. And they’re not a magic bullet either. Not having a hangout time like I’ve described doesn’t mean you’re not a healthy church. And if a church isn’t healthy, adding a coffee bar won’t make it so. We all need some form of fellowship, but we all have to find our own way to do it.

But let’s not let one of the great advantages of being small slip through our fingers. Of the five essential factors of a healthy church (Worship, Discipleship, Evangelism, Fellowship and Ministry) fellowship is the one where a Small Church can most naturally shine.

Innovative Small Churches know this truth. Dying Small Churches have forgotten it. We need to be more intentional about using this asset of smallness to its full advantage.

It’s not that hanging out needs to be hyper-planned. That’s probably the surest way to kill it. And it’s another good reason to use a term like hanging out instead of fellowship – it makes us less tempted to control it.

The good news is, it doesn’t take a lot of brainpower or planning to be intentional about hanging out. Just give it a chance to breathe by giving people some time to be together without an agenda while they’re at church.

A time and a place is all we need.

We need to stop over-programming our church services. Give the Holy Spirit some cracks he can squeeze through. Pauses and places where we can be together in his presence.

And pastors, don’t just open it up for them. Don’t be in charge of it. Enter into it yourself. What you’ve been looking for in the minister’s conference hallway may be as close as your own church’s hallway.

Allow your home church to be your home church, too.

Who knows? If we loosen our grip, God may tighten his.


So what do you think? Do you have any other ideas about the value of hanging out and how Small Churches can prioritize it better?

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(Feet Circle photo from Grantasaurus Wrecks • Flickr • Creative Commons license)

12 thoughts on “Hanging Out Is Holy – And Healthy Small Churches Take It Seriously”

  1. Albert Lautenschlager

    Hey guys I’m a rual pastor in North Dakota when I came to my current church 7months ago the were starting worship at 10:45 and not getting done with the message until 12:30 then everyone rushed the doors and were gone. I was not used to seeing this. So the first thing I did was to keep my messages short and to the point so that we could be finished with everything by 11:45-12:00 allowing everyone to fellowship ( hang out) for as long as they want. The response was great the have all pulled me aside and said they enjoy not having to rush to get home for lunch and that they feel our church is more of a family now than in years past

    1. I love it! People can usually get more out of a shorter, tightly-crafted message, so you’re not undercutting the value of the preaching by what you’re doing – it likely has a greater punch. Plus, when you give them a hangout time afterwards they have a chance to discuss the message (at least a little) – making it more likely that they’ll apply it to their lives. It’s a win-win. Nice work in a short 7 months, Albert.

  2. If we want it to be about the relationship, hanging out is essential.
    Some of our deepest growth between the folks have come from our hanging out times!
    Its very cool to see a group hanging out and begin to pray and as the pastor, not having a clue what it was about because I’m hanging out with another group or person.

  3. Anyone got any ideas how one would go about doing this when their church is in a trailer that gets upacked every Sunday, shuffled into a School, then packed back into the trailer??

    1. Good question. If anyone has dealt with this, tell us what you’ve done. In the meantime, here’s my off-the-top idea.

      Two immediate possibilities come to mind for what to do on an every Sunday basis. Do both of these if you can.

      1. Build 5-10 minutes of hangout time into the middle of the service. My church does it after worship, right before the message. I’ve been in other churches that do this quite successfully, too.
      2. Right after the service, if you can require the tear-down people to take even 15 minutes before starting to pack up, that makes a big difference. We do this at our church because, even though we have our own building, the seating has to get torn down for other events after every service.

      If either of those aren’t possible, you need to be even more intentional about creating other hangout times, maybe in homes during the week. When our church was portable, we didn’t take the hangout time into account, and it hurt us.

      If you want to try something more extreme, here’s what I’d do if I was ever in a portable church situation again. I would consider turning one Sunday into a hangout time instead of a “normal” service. I’d do it at least every quarter, or every time there’s a fifth Sunday in the month. I’d probably shoot for one Sunday every month. On those Sundays, no one has to do any stage set-up and there’s minimal chair set-up. Break out the coffee and donuts instead. It will give everyone a break. Your set-up and tear-down teams will love it. So will the worship team and the preacher, who will get a much-needed break. Even childcare workers get a break, since families can hang out together.

      If you try that, don’t announce it as a once-a-month thing to start. Just do it as a one-time experiment. If it works, tweak it and try it again. And I’d give it a special name so people know it’s a special Sunday.

      Whadya think?

      1. We actually did something called the “Know Sunday Sunday Thing” where we didn’t do a set up tear down and just had a breakfast gathering. We got everyone together, prayed over the meal then sat and ate etc for about 30 minutes, then I did a guided discussion with some table games etc. It was pretty good, and I think we will keep doing that perhaps on those 5th Sundays or once a quarter, or maybe even once a month. My fear in doing it though is the perception that those who come to visit on a Sunday to check things out might get a bit skewed.

        1. That sounds great!

          I share your concern about visitors not being sure about what they’re coming in for. The answer for that may be as simple as explaining it thoroughly. Have a signs (or signs) at the entrance, and maybe flyers to hand out as people come in, explaining what will happen this morning and how it fits in to the rest of what you do.

          We do Nametag Sunday once a month, to help people get better acquainted, so we have several posters on the walls and a note in the bulletin explaining what it is and that we don’t do it every week. If new people know they won’t be asked to slap a nametag on every week, but that we do it occasionally to enhance the friendliness factor, they like it.

          People can handle something different if they understand what it is and why it’s being done. With the right explanation, it wouldn’t surprise me if it became something that attracted new people.

          I love, Love, LOVE that these kinds of helpful conversations are happening here!

  4. Hanging out is where the greatest ministry in our congregation takes place. I too keep the message shorter on Sunday then people hang out long after I leave (after I hang out for a while. The hang out time last sometimes twice as long as the service and it is fun watching shy folks become integrated over time.

  5. Spot on! I’d love to find that in San Antonio! Now there are people like myself who are homebound who do you purpose reaching them? Are you willing to grab some coffe to go and head to someone’s home for ” hanging out? Love love love it especially letting loose and allowing the Holy Spirit entrence just don’t forget to invite him in!

  6. I went to the Bull City Vineyard website and see they closed. Is that typical of the Vineyard plants? 3-years & scatter to share the Good News? Love this small church forum. I am a newly ordained Episcopal priest leading a tiny, diverse congregation and feast on these posts. Thank you!

    1. Hi Peggy. I checked with the pastor of BCV. Due to circumstances I can’t disclose, the church is on hiatus for an undetermined period of time, starting today. They could use your prayers. Thanks for bringing this to my attention.

      I’m glad this website is a blessing to you as you minister to your “tiny, diverse congregation”. 🙂

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