Evangelism often begins with hospitality. One saying our family has adopted is: “Invite people into your life and not to a location.” Getting your neighbor to come to a church service is wonderful. However, if your relationships are like mine, people can be nervous to attend church for numerous reasons. Having them into your house is a less intimidating first step for many.
As fall approaches, bring out the cozy sweatshirts and the s’mores! It’s the perfect time to plan an outdoor event, building relationships around the warmth of the firepit. In case you haven’t noticed, supernatural things often happen around fire. Moses met God at the burning bush, the Israelites were led by a blazing pillar, and flaming tongues fell upon the believers on the day the church was born. God’s presence and power are often associated with fire.
So get that calendar out and begin planning your next gathering. Need some motivation? Here are a few reasons why firepits present a fresh opportunity for building community.
- The firepit makes it less awkward.
Fire is mesmerizing. Staring at the wood takes the spotlight off individuals, removing the pressure of feeling out of place. The darkness provides a mysteriously safe space that often causes people to open up.
Are you having a hard time connecting with your teens? Campfire. Has conversation stalled with your reserved neighbor? Campfire. Do you have nonreligious coworkers that seem lonely and left out? Campfire.
- The firepit makes for great storytelling.
C. S. Lewis once said, “Friendship … is born at the moment when one man says to another: ‘What! You too? I thought that no one but myself …’”1 Conversations around a fire normally travel to unexpected places, allowing people to go beyond the surface, swapping famous stories and finding common ground. At the end of the night, if a neighbor leaves feeling more “known,” then a spiritual bond has begun. The relationship has grown.
- The firepit appeals to both men and women.
Fires feel masculine. While a woman may feel like she’s dragging her husband to an indoor social function, the fire is a much bigger draw. I have three teenage sons and a husband who love nothing more than to poke and prod the hot embers. Fires are a great way to include the less-than-chatty men in your life.
- The firepit is COVID-sensitive.
Like never before, people have a felt need to connect with others. It’s been a lonely few years. The ongoing challenge, however, is the varying comfort levels related to social proximity. An outdoor evening is a much more acceptable way to have people over while being sensitive to safety.
Those are just a few reasons why a fire is a phenomenal way to spend an evening. Hopefully, I’ve convinced you to set a date and start a list. With that said, here are a few tips to make the event more intentional and enjoyable.
Making the Most of It
- Prepare the atmosphere.
As your friends or family appear, create a space that communicates honor and thoughtfulness. Before you feel overwhelmed, hear me out. I am not suggesting that you must run to Pinterest, search “campfire party,” and create signage for the graham crackers and matching paper straws. No need to stress or overspend. Giving some thought to supplies is a simple way to improve the experience.
A prepared atmosphere:
- is not: “You need a stick to roast that marshmallow? There are woods behind our house. I’m sure you can find one there.”
- is: “We are so glad you were able to join us. Here are the roasting sticks whenever you would like to have a s’more.”
- is not: “Your hands are sticky? I’m sorry. The bathroom is inside, up the stairs, third door on the left. Hand towels are under the sink.”
- is: “Sticky fingers? Napkins and wipes are right here. Take as many as you need!”
You get the point. Think ahead and your guests will want to mark their calendars for the next one.
- Prepare the conversation.
My husband and I heard a statement years ago which we’ve repeated over the years: “The conversation is the relationship.” The best relationships are formed from the best talks. Creating meaningful topics of conversation will cause everyone to feel more included. This doesn’t have to dominate the night, but fifteen minutes of focused conversation can cause the group to gel.
After people have found their seats around the fire, consider saying, “We’d like to start by having one big conversation.” Our family has a set of conversation cards that always seem to help. Call on an extroverted person and off it goes.
Preparing a conversation may seem overdone, but in my experience, one of two things often happens when we get together with others:
- The “free-for-all”
This happens when we attend an event at someone’s house and are left to mingle on our own. No word is spoken to kick off the night, or introduce those who may not know one another. While this works fine for the extrovert, the introverts want to disappear. One big conversation can alleviate the small talk anxiety.
- The “same table, separate conversation”
This happens when my husband and I go to dinner with a couple. Once we are seated, the man sparks a conversation solely with Ben, while the woman creates a conversation with me. When it’s over, we have no idea what the other person talked about for an hour. What was supposed to be a “date night” turned into a very isolating situation.
Try your best to avoid these two scenarios. Hosting a single conversation will make the group feel more connected and make the night feel more memorable.
People often embrace Christian community before they embrace the Christian faith. Creating places where people feel comfortable having conversations is a huge step. Don’t miss the opportunity to build relationships as you build that fire.
Lynley Mandrell is the wife of Ben Mandrell, the new president and CEO of Lifeway Christian Resources. Before coming to Lifeway, Ben and Lynley spent five years in Denver, CO, planting a church designed to reach the unchurched. She is a mother of four and a fan of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Dr. Pepper®, and silence.
1. C. S. Lewis, The Four Loves, (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1960), 78.