I feel as if I am late to the party with the word ‘relatable’. I’ve only just discovered how widely its being used in popular culture, not just as a description of cute and comforting memes, proverbs and words, but also about celebrities, events, and yes, even Jesus.
Relatable, in its contemporary use, simply means ‘enabling a person to feel that they can relate to someone or something’. I find myself wondering what could happen if our local faith communities were seen as ‘relatable’ – places which seemed like somewhere where those who don’t yet belong would find someone to connect with, to build relationship with, to make friends.
Christening families, wedding couples, bereaved people, who have journeyed from an initial contact to being active part of a local worshipping community all talk about first impressions of warmth – and relevance. Wider research with those who become part of church, and with those who leave, highlight these factors. Being relatable goes further than a series of tasks or a statement that we are a ‘friendly’ church. It involves being interested in people’s lives, and bringing the Gospel into a dialogue with the ordinariness of everyday life through worship, preaching, conversation, involvement, invitation and more.
I recently heard a talk about work with the homeless, contrasting a transactional approach with a relational approach. It made me think how easily the welcome we offer at church becomes transactional: a series of tasks that we have to do, ranging from handing out leaflets to information about services to come. But what if we thought about welcome as relational, reflecting a ‘relatable’ church, and a ‘relatable’ Jesus. As one sermon puts it ..” there’s something about Jesus. He’s a people magnet. Jesus shows us that He welcomes people where they’re at.” That first contact with God and God’s people, however it happens, can be the moment when a faith journey sparks into life, as we reflect the welcome of Jesus.
Over 24 hours, from November 5th – 6th, we are hosting a conference which will explore this question more fully. There will be speakers talking about how those first encounters and first impressions help those who we have contact with at various moments, which can feel very fleeting, have the best possible chance of moving on in their own journey of faith, discovering the good news of God’s love revealed in Jesus. Whether it’s the school gate, a pioneering café, a dementia friendly church or a wedding couple, experiences, stories, and good practice will be shared. And above all, we will be ‘relatable’! Come and join us..
Canon Sandra Millar Head of Life Events
From stranger to friend: first encounters on faith journeys 5th – 6th November at The Hayes, Swanwick, Derbyshire
Book now www.strangertofriend.org