This is Good News! A Story from Evangel Church: The Hospitality Experiment
Evangel Pentecostal Church is located in downtown Montreal, Quebec. Surrounded by towering buildings, the church leadership began to struggle with the question: How can we practice evangelism in our neighbourhood?
Every proposed solution seemed to be quickly crossed off the list. The biggest, most beautiful signs would still get lost in the urban landscape. Large events at the church were becoming more expensive and less effective. Flyers were tossed into garbage cans. Outdoor events were easily eclipsed by the world-class festivals held in the city. Eventually, the city even stopped allowing the church to host events at the tiny park across the street.
The condos and apartment buildings around Evangel—some of them 36 storeys high—are all gated communities. They house thousands of people, but those people seemed to be sealed off from the church.
“We concluded that the only way we could reach the people in the buildings around our church was if we had people living in each of those buildings—living there intentionally with a heart to pastor their building and to get to know their neighbours through hospitality,” lead pastor Patti Miller explains. “And the only way that would happen was if we discipled our entire congregation to practice hospitality. And the only way that I could teach that was if I lived it myself, and I had never done that. I had never tried to pastor my building because I was too busy pastoring my church.”
For Patti and her husband Jeff, the journey began with themselves. Grounded in the assumption that God had placed them in their building and was already at work there, Patti and Jeff committed to be fully present and to lower their privacy boundaries. Patti, a natural introvert, pushed past her own comfort zone. Along with others committed to a “hospitality experiment,” the couple experienced the excitement of forging new connections, watching a culture of community take shape in their building, and seeing God at work in their neighbours’ lives. They experienced the fatigue that sets in when hospitality is no longer a new habit, but a long-term commitment. They also experienced the deep impact hospitality had on their own lives: ideas of time and busyness were reshaped, and a new level of authenticity in all areas of life was demanded.
“I know now that a few neighbours tune into our church service. When I’m coming home from church, I’m going to pass them in the hallway. This has deeply shaped how I preach. It’s not about being a professional pastor; now I’m your neighbour,” Patti says.
Patti decided to share what she had learned with the rest of the church. She launched a sermon series on hospitality and, in the middle of the series, COVID hit. The church’s focus on hospitality did not waver, however; the leadership team clung to the conviction that God, in His sovereignty, was still leading them in that direction.
In the fall of 2021, a more organized hospitality cohort was launched. About a dozen people signed up for the 11-week experiment, meeting together on Zoom once a week and putting into practice what they learned about loving their neighbours. The stories from this cohort are unique—stories of God working through different personalities, different family dynamics, and different contexts. But every member has seen God honour a simple prayer the group adopted: “Shape me.”
“This is an experiment on me. My agenda is not to get my neighbours saved; the agenda is for me to become fully present and leaning in to where God is already at work where I live,” Patti explains.
In January 2022, a second hospitality cohort was launched. Evangel Church is still in the middle of this story, but congregation members have already been impacted by the new focus.
“I don’t know the results yet. It’s what we’re trying and where we believe God is leading us. It’s not just the topic of the month; this is going to be part of how we function,” Patti says. “I want to say it has huge potential, but that sounds like I discovered it. It’s what Jesus told us to do—love your neighbour!”
Photo at top of page and directly below: Congregation members explain The Hospitality Experiment at Evangel Church in Montreal.
Photo at bottom of page: Patti Miller explaining The Hospitality Experiment.
Home page photo by Ralph Ravi Kayden on Unsplash.
Other photos courtesy of Evangel Church.
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