And this is exactly why, as Alan Hirsch has said, “Party is sacrament.” Sacraments are those deep, long-held practices that hold the church together and set her apart from the common fray. Like baptism, the Lord ’s Supper, and marriage. When teaching about the kingdom, our living metaphors are that of a wedding feast, a banquet, and a supper. It’s time to include this in our own spiritual formation.
In my personal story of starting two churches in very secular contexts, many friends found faith in our home and not one story started without the party. A party leads to conversation that is full of inquisitive questions. A good conversation leads to another party, and then another where the conversations leads to friendship and sharing life outside the party. Then friends talk even deeper and help each other out and are there on tough days with encouragement and another invite over for dinner.
Then months or even years in, a comment like this usually happens, “So Hugh, Lindsey and I were just talking the other night and we are amazed at how much we love your family and are so thankful to have become friends with you and Cheryl. We are always challenged by who you are and you’re making it hard not to believe in God.”
These natural questions and conversations lead to an even more natural invitation like this: “Joe, I’m honored you and Lindsey feel this way about us. We love you guys, too, and have loved having you in our lives. I also want to thank you for how candid you’ve been about your struggles and even your struggles with faith and religion. You know we would never try to push you in any way, but if you ever want to join us, a handful of us get together every other Thursday night, and we talk more intentionally about life and God and we pray for each other. We’d love to have you with us in this if you ever feel the nudge.” This process and invitation have been given hundreds of times and almost every time the invite to Jesus is accepted.
From Small Group to Missional Community
I spend my life traveling around the globe encouraging and training the missionary spirit. Some are with church planters but most are with existing congregations with huge hearts for the lost but who still live according to a non-party ethic and the rhythms of abstract holiness.
Many people have asked, “Hugh, what is the one key to turning a typical small group into a true missionary community?” Another asks, “Hugh, how did all those people find faith through your parties—how did it happen?” Another asks, “How do you disciple people to live more human lives like Jesus?”
My answer is always the same: You have to teach and disciple people in how to throw a good party. It’s where everything starts. It’s where we learn to listen instead of judge, where we become advocates instead of adversaries and where people cease to be targets or projects because they are our friends.
Sadly, many Christians don’t know the art of throwing a fun, welcoming party like this. We have to teach them simple tips like lighting candles to prepare a cozy atmosphere, greeting people at the door, and playing soft music in the background during the party. It’s also helpful to provide some party ideas—like a potluck—to show people how simple it can be. Thankfully, these aren’t difficult to teach, and you can even model them for your group members.