At North Circle, we’ve said this phrase long before Pop-Up Church became a thing for us. And to clarify, we don’t mean “doing the Sunday church thing but just in a neighborhood.”
We mean loving the people who live closest to you every single day. We mean showing up for the hard times and the fun times. We mean backyard bonfires, borrowing the pressure washer, dog-sitting, making sure all the kids get home safe, noticing someone may need help with the yard work, dropping off an extra batch of cookies, and sharing our lives with each other.
That being said–when we’re in the middle of a global pandemic and our church family misses in-person connection, worshiping together, and hearing God’s Word through our leaders in a live setting–it’s time to get creative. We’ve all spent the last five months finding creative ways to continue church during the time of COVID-19, and I’m thinking that’s not going to end anytime soon. I wrote a blog post for Stadia during Indiana’s Shelter-In-Place order about our team’s creative process for solving problems using our five senses as a guideline, and I want to show you how we used that for Pop-Up Church. But first, let’s talk about what Pop-Up Church means and how we decided to pursue that in the first place.
Before anything else, we reminded ourselves of the mission of North Circle Church. “Together, we are chasing a new way of life in Jesus.” As we looked to examples of what other churches were doing (and doing so well!), we realized that–for us–the goal was to pursue a “new way” of gathering. Rather than spending our energy attempting to remake our “normal” Sundays in the midst of a world of unknowns, we wanted to get creative with gathering in a new way, and we took that challenge seriously. We knew we wanted our people to feel safe, to support our local community, and to continue sharing the beauty of the gospel with the people who are literally closest to us–our neighbors. So this became our plan: to gather every Sunday morning in a different outdoor space each week for Pop-Up Church and to continue our At-Home Studies that are sent to our app/our people’s inboxes every Saturday evening for those who cannot attend in-person. We encourage our church to attend whenever and wherever they feel comfortable and give our Pop-Up hosts the resources to invite their neighbors. Each Sunday, we highlight a local non-profit organization by giving them time to share their vision before matching all financial giving from that day up to $1,000. We spend time in worship, teaching, raising/matching donations, and just being with each other for roughly 45-minutes.
Obviously, it’s not all about numbers, but we’re a church plant so we tend to pay way too much attention to those. In the four weeks before our lockdown, we ministered to 66 individual people through our Sunday gatherings. In the first four weeks of Pop-Up Church, 85 people have been reached, and we have seen a 125% return ratio. This isn’t including all of the digital connections we have fostered and the individual meetings that we have continued safely–it’s important to note that not every person in our church will feel comfortable gathering anytime soon, and those completely valid concerns just mean we need to be intentional about connecting with them in other ways! God is moving in our people in the middle of an unpredictable world. There’s something miraculous about this “new way” of life we are pursuing.
So what does our Pop-Up Church experience actually look like? Let me break it down by using our trusty old five senses as a guide (this concept is explained in that first Stadia blog post that I mentioned!):
We want to make sure that all of our branding, hospitality, merch, and social media point first and foremost to our goal of chasing a new way of life in Jesus and being the church in our neighborhoods. We want it to be obvious for people who happen to catch us out in the wild that we are North Circle Church, and that this is our mission.
Speaking of sight, it’s important to us that anyone who attends Pop-Up Church sees our leadership practicing the courtesy of social distancing and mask-wearing. We trust experts, and we believe that adhering to safety measures in the midst of a pandemic is a tangible way to actually love our neighbors.
I’ll use this category to rave about our host homes. The smell of newly cut grass and fresh air reminds us that people have taken great care to invite others into their space, and they’ve prepared their lawns, driveways, and front porches to accommodate this wild idea of ours. Some of these hosts consider themselves a part of North Circle, and some just love their neighbors. We’re thankful for them all. We’ve also been attuned to how our people have felt the past few months, and the choice to be outdoors rather than inside a building has been appreciated by those who feel more comfortable.
And can we talk about the smell of after-it-rains? That petrichor? Or the distinct pre-storm scent? Weather in Indy can be a little unpredictable in the summers, but our Gathering Guide on our app and website gives people live-updates on any changes as well as all information anyone could possibly want about our gatherings.
We. Love. Coffee. It’s just a part of who we are. So when we determined that, in accordance with our governor’s recommendations, having our usual self-serve coffee station may not be the smartest decision, we may have panicked a little. Enter Indie Coffee Roasters, one of our favorite local shops. During lockdown, they began bottling their cold brew for their customers, and this became the perfect solution. Pre-packaged cold brew in the summer heat that supports a local business? Sign us up. Well, we already signed up. We’re doing it.
Also, we have snacks.
HAND SANITIZER HAND SANITIZER HAND SANITIZER. We continue to support small businesses, down to the last detail. 1205 Distillery in Westfield came through with their locally-made hand sanitizer, and our health thanks them.
Now is a good time to remind you of the children. Our North Circle Kids are an integral part of our neighborhoods, and we want them to feel thought of at our Pop-Ups. Our activity bags are the perfect thing to keep anyone entertained, complete with a coloring sheet of our favorite local businesses and some free Chick-Fil-A! Our host homes have also provided sidewalk chalk, basketballs, and their backyard swing sets for all the fun.
I made this playlist that I personally refer to as “lo-fi worship,” and honestly it simultaneously gets people hype and makes everything feel like a chill party. We’ve also missed live worship SO MUCH. Maybe it’s because we no longer have to sing along to a video in our living rooms with our families who can’t carry a tune (even though that span of time will definitely be missed), or maybe it’s because there really is something beautiful about gathering with God’s people and experiencing a little taste of Heaven in that way. Maybe it’s a little bit of both.
And on a final note, it really is just incredible to hear the voices of our community again. To talk to people and not hear them talk back through a laptop speaker? It’s amazing the things we take for granted. Our Pop-Up Churches have been a safe yet extraordinary space to reconnect with our neighbors, and we are seeing God work in unexplainable ways through our people’s lives.