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How to be Welcoming [with Johnny Flash]

How to be Welcoming [with Johnny Flash]

 

When you choose a church, gudwara, or ethical society to attend with your partner or family, how do you find one? Word of mouth? The internet? And how do you know you’re welcome?

As digital spaces have become more robust and hospitable, and as many of us are finding valuable relationships in online and non-traditional communities, many religious institutions find themselves at a crossroads. How can they share positive messages about community and transformation without losing on-ground traditional values and methods that many hold dear?

In this episode of In Times Like These, we talk with John Falke, also known as Johnny Flash about how to be welcoming. John is the creator of Amplified Impact, a blog, podcast, and organization that helps religious communities and organizations amplify their work to extend their message and purpose.

Transcript

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Announcer(steph:             You’re listening to In Times Like These, a production of CLU Live at Claremont Lincoln University. In Times Like These explores the difficult spaces we humans navigate in culture and religion, in dialogue and doubt. When you choose a church, gurdwara, or ethical society to attend with your partner or family, how do you find one? Word of mouth? The Internet? And how do you know you’re welcome? As digital spaces have become more robust and hospitable, and as many of us are finding value relationships in online and nontraditional communities, many religious institutions find themselves at a crossroads. How can they share positive messages about community and transformation without losing on-ground traditional values and methods that many hold dear. In this episode of In Times Like These, we talk with John Falk, also known as Johnny Flash. John is the creator of Amplified Impact, a blog, podcast, and organization that helps religious communities and organizations amplify their work to extend their message and purpose.

Stephanie Varno:             John, thank you so much for joining us. I’ve been learning a lot from your podcasts and your newsletter and your blog. And I wanted to start by talking about how beautiful the Amplified Impact resources are. And I was struck again this morning, scrolling through, looking at the images, listening to the sound quality, and how beautiful and accessible it is. And I was contrasting that with my experience on my own church’s website. And listen-

John Falk:                           (LAUGHING)

Stephanie Varno:             I love church. I love church. I’m one of these people, I will not miss church. I grew up going to church, Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday night. I love everything about church. But when I try to find something like what time the Christmas Eve service is or where is the Pastor’s email, church websites, I think other than restaurant websites, are so clunky. Sometimes music loads. Sometimes like some kind of Listserv loads. I don’t understand why something that’s so important to so many of us, right? Like essential to our family’s life in a week, why the front public face of it isn’t as beautiful as all the other resources that we use? So tell me about your thinking on what that public face looks like for religious groups and churches.

John Falk:                           Well, first let me just say thanks for having me on, Stephanie. It’s an honor to be on here and to get to chat with you. You know I wish your story about your church website or the restaurant websites that you’ve been to was like an anomaly, but unfortunately, far too often that’s exactly the case. Where I think churches sometimes fail to realize the front door of their church isn’t the front door anymore.

Stephanie Varno:             Oh.

John Falk:                           It’s usually their website and their social media channels. And so when churches aren’t having visitors, it’s usually because people have gone online and they either couldn’t find them or they weren’t impressed with what they saw. And then they decide to move on. Unfortunately, Google makes it so easy for you to just press the back button and click on the next church in the list, that there’s not a lot of grace there. And so I think churches are just…Obviously, some churches do this well, but I think a lot of churches are starting to awaken to the fact that their digital reputation and their digital presence, all of those things have a big influence on people’s decisions and whether they choose to engage with them or not.

Stephanie Varno:             So when did this happen? Because I feel like at a certain point in the United States at least, you move to a new town and if you were Episcopalian, you went to the Episcopal Church in town. And if you were First Baptist, you went to the First Baptist Church. And there wasn’t this sense of what do I personally need in a church. Or you went to the one closest to you, right? You went to the one within walking distance or driving distance. So what is this shift around I’m gonna get on Google and search for a church. And what are people looking for when they do that? Are they looking for an affinity with who they see themselves as?

John Falk:                           Yeah, I mean I think there’s a lot of things that contribute to the change. Obviously, culture has changed a lot in the last 20, 30 years, so you’ve got culture becoming more and more secularized, less and less Christian, if you can say that. And then you’ve got kind of this consumer mindset, which is not helped by first you’ve got iTunes and now you’ve got Spotify and you’ve got all these things where you play any song in the world basically on demand without having to go to the store and buy the CD and all this kind of stuff. And then you’ve got things like Amazon Prime, which are delivering stuff the next day, the same day. Soon the drones will be flying over my house-

Stephanie Varno:             (LAUGHING)

John Falk:                           And dropping off packages (LAUGHING). I’m sure people are appreciative of that with all the different holidays and birthdays and all of that kind of stuff. But I think there’s become this consumer mindset. Instead of kind of initially going to church for maybe different purposes, it’s become unfortunately a lot more of what can the church do for me, what can the church do for my kids, what can the church offer me. And I think some churches do a good job of moving people from consumers to more biblically based, I guess you can say, if we’re talking about a Christian church. But really I guess a lot of the religions would fall into this. Try to move people from kind of their self-serving purposes to kind of thinking about a higher being or God and those that are around them, kind of moving them from thinking about themselves to that. And so I think when it comes to people finding a new church, it tends to be more along the lines of is gonna work well for me, am I gonna fit in here. Theology is probably taking a backseat to the conveniences that the church has to offer.

Stephanie Varno:             Right. And in a way, I could bemoan that. But in a way, this is just a form of radical hospitality, right? Like I know that parents are busy, that we’re looking for good ethical robust youth programming, and if I find a church that maybe isn’t my denomination but has a great youth program and it’s easy to get to, I might start out going for self-serving purposes. I want community for my child. But the hospitality piece is the church leadership in that space, because I’ve come to the dinner party, now can be in relationship with me, right?

John Falk:                           Absolutely, yeah.

Stephanie Varno:             The idea is why would I create barriers to something that I think is really beautiful and life affirming.

John Falk:                           Yeah, no, I think you’re right. I think if the church is doing a good job, and we’re talking about churches, if the church is doing a good job, then people are gonna feel welcome. They’re gonna wanna get involved. They’re gonna wanna serve. They’re gonna find community. They might eventually give, either financially or their time. And so I think churches that are able to kind of do that translation from digital experience-

Stephanie Varno:             Yes.

John Falk:                           Don’t know anybody at the church, but it’s presented well enough online to get them to show up in person, then…And a lot of churches have church online now, so they-

Stephanie Varno:             Yeah.

John Falk:                           They’re connecting with people that don’t ever even show up in the seats or it’s an alternative for when they can’t make it. So there’s definitely a lot of things happening now that couldn’t have happened 20 years ago.

Stephanie Varno:             That was my next question. Because you mentioned the drones and I was picturing a drone like bringing Communion to my house. And so-

John Falk:                           (LAUGHING)

Stephanie Varno:             I mean, I don’t know that we’ve gotten there. I’ve seen that in Japan, there are fewer and fewer ministers that can perform certain rights of passage at the end of life, because there are fewer trained ministers to do that, as fewer people are going into that. And so they actually have robots that do it. And they come around in the hospices and they’ll perform the last rites, which is really fascinating to think about. Is it the ritual? Is it the actual words and so it doesn’t matter that it’s a robot saying that to you or would you prefer to have someone who’s not of your religious tradition but who is human sitting there with you and doing it? And so, what is the value then of still having a building with seats that people come to synchronously? They come to at the same time in the same space. Why haven’t we found…I mean, I have a lot of communities on Twitter and on Reddit and on Weight Watchers, right? So why haven’t I given up coming to, it seems kind of archaic compared to everything else that we do online.

John Falk:                           Yeah, there’s just some things that can’t really be, at least right now, can’t really be experienced online. And you watch a movie like Ready Player One or something like that, where it’s starts to kind of morph the in-person with the digital because there’s touch and feelings and other stuff that like aren’t really possible right now with the current way that stuff is digitally. So I think right now at least, and who knows what it’ll be like in another 20 years, but I think right now, there’s just some things that can’t be done digitally. Digital’s brought a lot of things together and created a lot of communities and ways to stay in contact, which is great, but I think there’s just some things that can’t be done digitally. And whether church and religion is one of those or not, probably only time will really tell what a church gathering 50 years from now will look like. Will it be everybody logging into their virtual projection room gathered together, singing the same song with the musician each playing at their house, all synced up together? I mean, who knows? You just don’t know.

Stephanie Varno:             Yeah, no. I will have to make a note in my diary some day to come back and look.

John Falk:                           (LAUGHING)

Stephanie Varno:             So how did you get into this work? You clearly have a background in design and in communication, but also teaching and leadership. So how did this come about, the work that you’re doing right now for churches and communities?

John Falk:                           Oh wow, I mean I think all of us have such unique stories that we end up with these different gift pairings that we didn’t even set out to kind of grow or facilitate and it just kind of happens. But I kind of grew up in the church and have always been involved and then went to do my undergrad. Then right out of my four year degree, got hired by a church full time to run their communications. It was a church of about 500 or so in weekend attendance and over the course of a decade, it grew to about 2,000, 2,500 in weekend attendance. And so had all of that experience, got a seminary degree along the way while working full time, and so I have a lot of church background. But also, because I was doing communications, a lot of it was design, graphics, websites, videos, managing teams of staff and volunteers that do all of those things.

John Falk:                           And so I’ve always just had a passion for kind of the creative and…I think it was in college where I went to this large church and they just did really well. They presented the Gospel in a creative, compelling, kind of edgy way that I hadn’t really been exposed to before and I think that was kind of what lit some of the passions that were already in me, but just kind of didn’t see how to use them in an outlet. And so now I just full time, help churches and organizations try to reach their audiences. Some of those churches and nonprofits and some of those are businesses and restaurants and consulting companies and stuff like that.

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Stephanie Varno:             Okay so, I’m thinking about a church growing at that rate. And so clearly the communications, like what I would see if I search online or if I’m downloading sermons or I’m seeing a Facebook Live, are going to be beautiful, easy to understand, easy to use. But if I go there in person, the people there also have to be embodying and practicing this radical hospitality. So help us understand, what are some key ingredients for communities that do this well? Help us visualize. We come into this space. What are going to notice, see and feel and hear that exemplifies this really radical hospitality?

John Falk:                           Yeah, so I was talking about this the other day with my wife about hospitality and everything. Obviously, hospitality has to involve some kind of generous. You even look up the definition of hospitality and it says the friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests, visitors, or strangers. You notice that word generous and friendly, hosting people, so I think it’s all kinds of things. It’s having open arms. It’s welcoming people in. Sometimes we have to live outside of the deadlines and outside of our agendas and outside of our efficiencies. It’s not all about my checklists and stuff. And we have to live outside of our sensibilities. Sometimes we just have to have a little bit of adventure, kind of live outside, color outside the lines a little bit. And so I think obviously hospitality looks like all different things for different organizations for different people.

John Falk:                           I remember reading a story a while back in a book called Love Does by Bob Goff. And he tells this story, which is just so crazy, but it kind of exemplifies hospitality, I think. And that is Bob has this house that has a porch on the back of it and it backs up to a waterfront path. And there’s a guy walking by on the path. He sees Bob on his porch. So this guy decides to introduce himself to Bob. And this young man tells Bob a little bit about his story and says hey, I’m thinking about proposing to my girlfriend. I’m trying to find just the right spot to like ask her to marry me. Would it be possible to be able to use your back porch for my proposal?

Stephanie Varno:             Oh my goodness!

John Falk:                           Yeah, I know. Just total stranger and Bob enthusiastically agrees. And so the young man, over the course of the next few days and weeks, returns several more times asking more favors of Bob. And so he says, can I have several of my friends serve us dinner on your porch?

Stephanie Varno:             (LAUGHING)

John Falk:                           And so Bob’s like sure. This sounds exciting. Let’s do this. So he’s going to have some of his friends come and serve and then he’s like, Bob I notice that you have a boat. Would it be possible-

Stephanie Varno:             (LAUGHING)

John Falk:                           Like after the dinner for you to take us out on the boat? And Bob’s like, yeah, that’d be awesome, let’s do it. And he keeps agreeing to all these things. But he doesn’t stop there. Bob calls the Coast Guard and asks them if they can show up with their fireboat and blast the sky with several streams of water for the grand finale while this couple is on the boat.

Stephanie Varno:             Oh my gosh!

John Falk:                           And so I mean it’s this epic, crazy, like over the top story, but that’s radical hospitality, right?

Stephanie Varno:             Right.

John Falk:                           This guy didn’t deserve it. He hadn’t earned it.

Stephanie Varno:             Right.

John Falk:                           He wasn’t entitled to it.

Stephanie Varno:             Right.

John Falk:                           All those things, but yet this was radical hospitality. So it’s like what does that look like in our churches, in our organizations, in our businesses?

Stephanie Varno:             Oh, that’s a tough one. You know what? So what I’m thinking is I don’t often feel that sense of expansiveness about my own church. I have the pew where I sit with my family. And I obviously I work in dialogue. I would want to be as expansive and generous as that homeowner. But I’m tired. And I’m not sure that I think I or my church has that much to offer. Like somebody comes in and I don’t know, do I wanna run over to them and say…Well, how can I, I’m so happy…I don’t feel that way all the time when I’m at church. And so I guess it seems to me that one of things, if we want to grow and we want to be hospitable is really to think about why are we here? What do I love about this place? Why do I keep coming back? So that maybe I can tap into that sense of joyful expansiveness instead of a sense of scarcity. Like if I give you-

John Falk:                           Yeah, yeah, I think you can’t have a scarcity mindset. Obviously, you have to have an abundance mindset. But I think also radial generous is usually in proportion to what someone has, right? So you think of like-

Stephanie Varno:             Oh right.

John Falk:                           So I think of a story in the Bible that recorded where a woman brought her only thing of perfume-

Stephanie Varno:             That’s right.

John Falk:                           And used it on Jesus’ feet. That was all she had and so that was extreme radical hospitality. But if a rich person had said, oh here’s one of my hundred bottles of perfume, like wash your own feet, or I’ll have my servant wash your feet or whatever, like that’s not the same hospitality even though the act is basically the same, right?

Stephanie Varno:             That’s right, that’s right.

John Falk:                           So it’s in proportion to what someone has. And so you think about the story of the woman who didn’t have anything, welcomes Elijah into her house, offers the last bit of food that she has. Her and her kid are about die of starvation and she offers what she has kind of faith. That’s radial hospitality, right? That’s kind of giving all that you have. And so I think sometimes we get paralyzed by the great needs that there are.

Stephanie Varno:             Yes.

John Falk:                           We read the statistics. We read the statistics on homelessness or poverty or starvation or AIDS or pick your cause, right?

Stephanie Varno:             Right.

John Falk:                           We just overwhelmed when we’re not necessarily called for us personally to help every one of those people. We’re just called to help who we can, right?

Stephanie Varno:             Right.

John Falk:                           Andy Stanley says, I heard him give a message once and he said, do for one what you wish you could do for everyone.

Stephanie Varno:             Yeah.

John Falk:                           And it’s the whole idea of you know what? If all of us did for one what we wish we could do for everyone, that would have a pretty huge impact. I mean, think about all of the people that would be impacted and obviously, some of us can do for more than one person what we wish we could do for everyone. But if we all just did one thing, just the ripple effect that that would have. So I think we can’t get paralyzed by the huge numbers or the small amount that we have. We just have to do what we can for who we can.

Stephanie Varno:             Right. No, that’s beautifully put. And you’re right about the paralysis. We think oh and so then we don’t do anything. Kind of despair, like the seduction of despair. Well, if I can’t, then I just won’t. But we can.

John Falk:                           Yeah and I mean, some things that I have come to mind of like, I live in this tiny little house. And it’s surrounded by all of these really huge houses. And thankfully, there’s like an acre or two between us. So it’s not like we’re right on top of each other, but we’ve kind of got the tiny little house in the neighborhood and we have friends over from church or elsewhere from sports teams, my kids’ sports teams over, and they drive down our street and you think that…The anticipation has to be building-

Stephanie Varno:             (LAUGHING)

John Falk:                           About like the (LAUGHING) house that they’re gonna…Which of these houses is gonna be John’s? And then they get to the house and it’s like the tiny 50-year-old, under 2,000 square feet-

Stephanie Varno:             Yeah.

John Falk:                           Like just small little house and they’re like, oh this is the house, right? So then the bar gets way lowered and-

Stephanie Varno:             (LAUGHING) Yes.

John Falk:                           The expectations are suddenly wiped out. But then they walk into our house and my wife, she’s amazing. She’s an interior designer. She’s a designer. She just has a knack for hospitality, for creating spaces that are just warm and inviting. And people just come in and like somehow the charm of it all, the trees, the space outside, the friendliness, the welcoming place inside. It’s not perfect by any means, but it is just welcoming and inviting and people like to come. They like to stay long. They like to come back. And we crowd lots of people in our tiniest, smallest house, even though probably half the people there have larger houses or whatever. But we’re at our house and it’s because we open the door. We welcome people in and we just have that consistency of doing that, that it’s just a place that people wanna come to. And so, it doesn’t really matter what you have or what you think you don’t have.

Stephanie Varno:             Right.

John Falk:                           Yeah, it’s like it doesn’t have to be perfect to be beautiful.

Stephanie Varno:             Right.

John Falk:                           It’s just-

Stephanie Varno:             And they remember how they felt there, right? That’s the typical thing.

John Falk:                           Yeah.

Stephanie Varno:             They remember how they were treated and how they felt and so they wanna get that feeling again. And we all have that experience, even just like in restaurants or museums or a hotel. It might not be the most cutting edge or biggest or luxurious, but if the people there went out of their way and you had an amazing experience, then you think wow, I felt good. I felt like they wanted…I experienced generosity.

John Falk:                           Yeah, yeah. And I think time is one of our most valuable commodities, right? So it doesn’t have to be something physical or financial. Like just giving people time. I’ve got this neighbor. His name’s John also. John Jordan. And this guy is the most amazing, like he just gives of his time. Like you would think he has nothing else to do. He’ll be right in the middle of something and you go down and say hi to him and he just gives you the time of day. He gives you the shirt off his back. Even if you didn’t ask for anything or imply anything, he’s just there to help. I went the other day to like borrow a tool that I didn’t have that I needed for something I was trying to do in my wife’s garden. And I went there and just asked if I could borrow it and he was middle in the something. He stopped. He gave me the time. He asked how I was doing, all these different things.

John Falk:                           And then rather than giving me the tool, which I was just gonna borrow and go back and use, he was like, hey I can hook up the…I don’t even know what it’s called. It’s this thing that bores holes that’s connected to a tractor that he has. But he’s like, hey I can just drive that up and dig your holes for you and like knock it out really quick. And so he stops what he’s doing, we hook this thing up, and he drives up. What would’ve taken me three or four hours to do manually with the posthole digger was suddenly done in like 20 or 30 minutes and that was all because he chose to give up some of his time to be generous and to be hospitable. He didn’t have to do that, but he did. And that’s how he lives his life. I mean, he’s just that kind of person. And so I think time, a lot can be-

Stephanie Varno:             That’s a huge one.

John Falk:                           Yeah.

Stephanie Varno:             That feels really inspiring, but also doable. Because I have time. My 12-year-old son has time. We each have a little bit of time to give one or some thing, some creature, an animal [crosstalk 00:25:30].

John Falk:                           Absolutely.

Stephanie Varno:             That’s a good one. That’s a really, really, good teachable takeaway. So the last question I have is about a lot of times when organizations or communities or even families are growing or changing, some of us feel a little bit of resistance or wistfulness or anxiety or that myth of scarcity comes up. And so I would imagine that even when a church is healthy or an organization is healthy and we’re excited about the growth. Like my university, we’re growing right now. Student enrollment is up and we’re all really excited about that. But as that happens, there must be some growing pains and some anxieties that individuals and the group as a whole have. Have you experienced that? And do we as leaders help shepherd ourselves through that?

John Falk:                           Yeah, I think we all at some point or another and obviously some of us more than others, but I think we all sometimes resist change. We sometimes find change hard. And organizations are made up of people and so it doesn’t surprise me that we have these challenges in our organizations, in our churches, in our businesses. I think it’s particularly challenging for churches sometimes because they’ve been around so long, many churches have. They’re steeped in many traditions and although traditions can be beautiful and they can be good things, they can also sometimes get in the way of progress and kind of change. They can hinder us from moving forward, because we don’t wanna cancel the program that only eight people that have been at the church forever participate in because we’re afraid we’re gonna hurt their feelings.

Stephanie Varno:             Right.

John Falk:                           And I think the churches that get it, I think it is because people move from that consumer mindset to how can I serve others. And so you start to have a church that has older people in it that aren’t so focused on the music being their favorite taste of music, the programs being the programs that they want. And they’re thinking about how can I make this a place that my kids and my grandkids and my great-grandkids will come and want to know Jesus. And so they kind of move beyond thinking about themselves and thinking about what kind of legacy am I leaving? How am I going to influence the next generation and the generation after that? And it’s those churches where you find multigenerational and you find an older demographic that isn’t so much there because it’s their favorite music or because it’s done the way that it’s always been done or anything like that. It’s because they see the life change happening and they wanna be a part of that and they wanna help facilitate that and love the next generation and serve them in that way with this radical hospitality that we’re talking about.

John Falk:                           And so I think when people start to do that, that’s when things really start to change. And I think sometimes we have to be positive. When we have those people who are resistant to change in our organizations, we have to not be perceived as the negative one in the relationship. We have to turn it around and be positive. We can’t dismiss all of the traditions that they’ve had, all the things that have been good, all those things that have had their time, their purpose, that have done great things, we have to be positive. And I think when we can help them see the bigger picture of what we’re trying to do, what we feel like and sometimes it might be God calling us, to feel like God’s put something on our heart or called us to do something or whatever, that when they can get a sense of that vision, then I think that can start to change things.

Stephanie Varno:             Yes, I love this answer. This is not the answer I thought you were gonna give. I thought you were gonna give a very like workshoppy, consulting answer like oh, well you begin by having like a focus group and then you have-

John Falk:                           (LAUGHING)

Stephanie Varno:             I was expecting a very clinical kind of recommendation. But you turned it around and what you basically, what I heard you say was how would I treat someone in my house, right? If they wanna take off their shoes, I’m happy that they’re there. I’ll take my shoes off. If they love my chocolate pie so much that I’m not gonna get a piece this time, I’m thrilled that they love my pie. I’m happy.

John Falk:                           Absolutely, yeah.

Stephanie Varno:             If they are sitting in my favorite chair, it’s okay. I’m so happy they’re there. I’m so happy they want to stay. But I’ll sit in a different chair this time. And I never really, and I thought a lot about this, and I mean I’ve been in congregations where even the architecture…I’ve been in a lot of churches where the altar is up against the wall and it faces the wall. So the priest’s back is to the congregation for most of the service, which nowadays feels very disjoined and inhumane. But if you talk about, oh shouldn’t we have the minister facing the people? Because that involves moving that architecture, that’s a huge pain point for those kind of-

John Falk:                           Yeah, yeah.

Stephanie Varno:             But once you move from, even something like that, that actually physically manifests. If I think about it in terms of how I would treat someone in my home that I love and I’m thrilled they’re there, I don’t care so much. Yeah, sit in the window seat. Yeah, use the tea glass for Pepsi. I don’t care. I’m happy you’re here. [crosstalk 00:31:12].

John Falk:                           Well and I think the disconnect is that most churches, I was consulting with a church just yesterday on a call and was looking at their website. And it was a good looking website. It had good imagery, good wording, and I think the tagline was something like Real God and Real People or something like that on the homepage. And I was struck because as I went through the website, I didn’t see any stories of real people. Like they just weren’t there and there was this kind of disconnect where it was like, hey your messaging is good. Your visuals are good. But there’s a little bit of a disconnect in that you say Real God and Real People and I haven’t met one real person on the site. In the sense of, hi I’m John and this is my wife, Julie and we’ve been coming to the church for three years and this is what it’s done in my kids’ lives, blah, blah, blah. Not that you just wanna have the overtly testimonial, but people care about what other people say and so you have to kind of have that consistency from digital to in-person. All of those things have to kind of work together.

Stephanie Varno:             Right. And authenticity. And again, I don’t know why I’m so stuck on thinking about myself as a hostess at home, but if I said to you, make yourself at home. But then I micromanaged where you sat and where you put your drink and what coaster you use and where you put your fork, that wouldn’t be consistent with my-

John Falk:                           Yeah and if you wore a suit in your own home and invited me over for a casual dinner, I’m gonna feel like I showed up at the wrong house or you really didn’t mean to invite me or there was some kind of miscommunication. Because you and your family or whoever is all dressed up in a suit and I show up in my casual clothes thinking we’re having dinner and now all of a sudden, there’s a disconnect between who I thought you were or what I was being invited into versus what I’m actually being invited into. And there’s nothing wrong with dressing up. That’s not the point here.

Stephanie Varno:             Right, no, no, no. It’s the disconnect.

John Falk:                           But it’s the welcoming people in.

Stephanie Varno:             Oh, I love this. I actually feel both inspired and also this is something I can do, right? I personally can have an impact in a big organization or in a church or in a movement because it’s not…I guess before I started talking to you, I thought it was like a systems approach. Like I had to have a background in organizational leadership. But what we’re talking about is actually Stephanie being Stephanie in a way that I would be on an individual level. But doing that as part of a community.

John Falk:                           Yeah and I think when you go to extreme levels of radical hospitality, it creates this grace and this vibe that kind of cover a lot. Just to give you an example, and I know we’re kind of running out of time here, but I went to New York with a friend for a conference. And we tried to find a place to stay. We got an Airbnb and the place had great reviews and everything. It had two beds, so my friend Dustin and I were gonna go there. We’re gonna go this conference, stay at this lady’s house. It was all gonna be great. Well, we got there and it wasn’t quite what I thought. And at first, it seemed fine, but then sleeping there the first night, the bed was uncomfortable. It smelled like cat pee. I don’t know if it had been changed or not, but it smelled terrible. The towels, after I took a shower, they kind of had that like-

Stephanie Varno:             Yes.

John Falk:                           You know that towel that just-

Stephanie Varno:             Yes.

John Falk:                           It’s been clean, but it’s not smelling clean.

Stephanie Varno:             Right.

John Falk:                           Like one of those. And so it was just like, aw. But then, see here’s where the hospitality comes in. Then, this lady, like this really, really old lady. Like I don’t know how old she was, but I don’t know if I can say one foot in the grave, but I mean (LAUGHING) she was old. And so she makes us this homemade breakfast at the time when we’re ready to go out that morning, has this homemade breakfast. We come back and she had tried to wash some of our laundry, which we didn’t ask for. And it was almost a little bit scary, but at the same time, she was doing that and all these things. And so we got to the end of this few night stay and I asked my friend Dustin, I was like so what kind of review are you gonna give her? I was surely you’re gonna give her the one or two stars because people need to know the beds smelled like pee. They’re uncomfortable. The towels smell bad. This is not the greatest 4-1/2, 5 star rating that I thought we were getting. And yet because of her hospitality and her graciousness and everything-

Stephanie Varno:             Yes.

John Falk:                           I don’t think he could leave her a bad review. So I’m sorry for anybody listening who goes to New York-

Stephanie Varno:             (LAUGHING)

John Falk:                           And stays (LAUGHING) in this same Airbnb. But it just shows that that extreme hospitality gives grace to the imperfections.

Stephanie Varno:             Yes, yes.

John Falk:                           And I think that’s maybe why even our house works, right? It’s not that it’s perfect or anything like that, but when you kind of go above and beyond with the hospitality, the things about it being crowded or some people having to sit on some chairs or this or that, they kind of get overlooked because of the hospitality.

Stephanie Varno:             Right, the generous of spirit, which is part of that definition. I love how you have that definition like at the tip of your tongue. But it’s the generous of spirit that makes us feel good and cared for and a little joyful. Like wow, she went out of her way and that really good feeling is like a light that permeates the whole experience.

John Falk:                           Yeah and you just never know the impact that it’s gonna have on people.

Stephanie Varno:             Right. Oh my goodness, thank you so much! I learned a ton and I can’t wait to share this. I feel more capable and less paralyzed already.

John Falk:                           Well, thank you so much for having me. It’s been an honor to be on here.

MUSIC:                               (MUSIC)

Announcer(steph:             Thanks for listening to In Times Like These, where we explore issues of politics and faith and learn from one another how to navigate difference for maximum flourishing. In Times Like These is a product of CLU Live at Claremont Lincoln University. For more, subscribe, share, and visit us at claremontlincoln.edu.

MUSIC:                               (MUSIC)

Ways to listen to this episode:

In this episode, we discuss:

  • How religious communities need to use digital media to be their “front doors” for potential visitors and newcomers
  • Why it doesn’t matter what you have or don’t have when it comes to being hospitable
  • How to grapple with the discomfort of change, especially in times of growth
  • What explains the shift many younger adults and families are experiencing when it comes to finding meaningful community (hint: it’s not always church!)
  • Why thinking about church visitors as “consumers” isn’t necessarily a bad thing

Top 3 takeaways from this week’s episode:

  1. “Theology is probably taking a backseat to the conveniences the church has to offer.”

Families today have many demands on their time, and are looking for different kinds of resources and supports from religious and ethical communities today. People will ask, “What can the church do for me? What can the church do for my kids? What can the church offer me?” This “consumer mindset” can feel uncomfortable for traditional religious leaders, but if church does its job, then people will feel connected, they will feel welcome, and then they will become part of community.

Theology is probably taking a backseat to the conveniences the church has to offer. Listen now: Click To Tweet

  1. “Radical generosity is in proportion to what someone has.”

When we think about taking care of others—whether it be our neighbor, strangers, visitors, or newcomers—we need to remember that real generosity has to do with what we have. If we live in a little house, and open it to the entire Little League team, that’s radical. If we have a giant synagogue, and only allow one group to use it a week—that’s not so generous. When you think about what you have to offer, offer it with your whole heart and don’t worry about how fancy or large it is, just look to meet the need of those you can.

Radical generosity is in proportion to what someone has. Listen now: Click To Tweet

  1. “Why are people searching for churches on Google, and what are they looking for when they do that?”

Social media and online conveniences are part of our lives. We can find music or courses on any topic under the sun within minutes, and get many goods and services delivered to our homes within a day. We are used to finding information about food, travel, religious, the law and politics, healthcare, parenting, mental health, taxes, and consumer issues on our smartphones and without leaving the comfort of our homes. Of course we use Google to find religious and ethical communities that suit our needs. For religious, interfaith, and ethical organizations, leaders need to stop seeing a web presence as an “extra” and realize it is the front door to their community.

Why are people searching for churches on Google, and what are they looking for when they do that?. Listen now: Click To Tweet

 

Mentioned on the episode:

How to connect with us:

https://amplifiedimpact.org/author/johnnyflash/

Twitter: @johnfalke

You can connect with me on Twitter here: @SVarnonHughes.

And you can always connect with us at CLU on our FacebookTwitter, and LinkedIn accounts linked here.

Like the show? Help us spread the word by giving us a rating and review on iTunes!

About the Podcast

In Times Like These explores the difficult spaces we humans navigate in culture and religion, in dialogue and doubt. We talk to voices from the field, in law, activism, civil rights, and from places of struggle and places of deep learning. In Times Like These, we unpack the most troubling issues of politics and faith we face, together.

In Times Like These is hosted by Dr. Stephanie Varnon-Hughes and is a CLU Live production by Claremont Lincoln University.

Claremont Lincoln University offers socially conscious master’s degree programs in organizational development, public administration, human resources managementhealthcare administration, educational leadership, and social change.

Stephanie Varnon-Hughes

Stephanie Varnon-Hughes

Stephanie Varnon-Hughes, Ph.D., is the Director of the Claremont Core at Claremont Lincoln University, and an award winning teacher and interfaith leader. She is the host of the religion & culture podcast In Times Like These and author of Interfaith Grit: How Uncertainty Will Save Us. Varnon-Hughes was a co-founder and editor-in-chief of The Journal of Inter-Religious Studies, a peer reviewed journal, and its sister publication, State of Formation, an online forum for emerging religious and ethical leaders. She holds a Ph.D. from Claremont Lincoln University, an M.A. and S.T.M. from Union Theological Seminary and her undergraduate degrees are in English and Education, from Webster University.

Claremont Core

Claremont Lincoln University

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Stephanie Varnon-Hughes

Stephanie Varnon-Hughes

Stephanie Varnon-Hughes, Ph.D., is the Director of the Claremont Core at Claremont Lincoln University, and an award winning teacher and interfaith leader. She is the host of the religion & culture podcast In Times Like These and author of Interfaith Grit: How Uncertainty Will Save Us. Varnon-Hughes was a co-founder and editor-in-chief of The Journal of Inter-Religious Studies, a peer reviewed journal, and its sister publication, State of Formation, an online forum for emerging religious and ethical leaders. She holds a Ph.D. from Claremont Lincoln University, an M.A. and S.T.M. from Union Theological Seminary and her undergraduate degrees are in English and Education, from Webster University.

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