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Methodists seek ‘porch’ chats

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It's always a challenge for church leaders to draw "seekers" through their doors. So in the United Methodist Church, staffers are talking about meeting them for a chat on the front porch.

That doesn't mean the churches will suddenly start adding wooden porches. It's a metaphor for creating some middle ground where the "unchurched" can get comfortable.

"I think porches are that kind of structure, where neighbors can talk and people going by can meet each other," said the Rev. Daniel Benedict, worship resources director for the United Methodist Church's General Board of Discipleship. " . . . There's a certain kind of gracious freedom there."

In terms of the church's evangelization, it provides a period for "belonging before believing," a chance to ask questions.

"Methodist churches have been pretty much telling' kinds of organizations," Benedict said. "We want to tell them what they should believe. . . . At first, I think people just have to listen."

As is often the case with solutions to problems in contemporary ministry, this one reaches back to early Christian times, when the church gradually initiated new members through the catechumenate. After being introduced to the church, newcomers can take classes leading to baptism or reaffirmation of a childhood baptism.

"It's the catechumenate process, but it's also an attitude of the congregation," Benedict said. "Instead of being closed and turned inward," he added, the community needs to be "outwardly focused."

To encourage the process, the church will launch a television advertising campaign with the theme "Our hearts, our minds and our doors are always open."

"People are looking for a structure that doesn't rush them up to the door," Benedict said. "They can get to know each other. People can begin to say, 'I like these people. I'd like to know what goes on inside the house.' "