by Patti Miller
We never saw it coming.
Saturday, July 16, we held an outdoor concert to celebrate our church’s 100th anniversary. The concert was in the park across the street, with free desserts and coffee for all who stopped by. Our banners waved in the breeze: “#InsideOutChurch: Do Good. Love Each Other. Reveal Jesus.”
We noticed we had a good crowd – better than expected.
And then we noticed that a significant number of them were looking at their phones. What on earth…?
Pokémon GO had launched, and as it turned out, the hottest Pokéstop in Montreal was right in front of our church. Hundreds of people were suddenly there, at all hours of the day, an oddly silent crowd, staring at their phones, moving en masse from time to time as an elusive rare find cropped up.
Right. In Front. Of Our Church.
Monday, we looked out the window and mused, “We should maybe do something.”
Tuesday, we made a plan.
Wednesday, we went shopping and made signs. By Wednesday evening, our entire front glass was painted and backlit, visible from a block away, and we were offering free water, granola bars and charging stations for the hundreds of Pokémon players that were already there, on our own property.
In just over 48 hours, we had served over 2,000. By Sunday, we had served 4,384. At last count, in nine days spread over less than two weeks, we’ve served 7,604 people, and have been spotlighted repeatedly by several news media and social media sources as a church that cares about its community.
We’ve never seen such a positive response. Over and over, we’ve been asked, “Who are you? Why are you doing this?” When we answer that Jesus said to love our neighbours (and we suddenly have a lot of neighbours!) we hear over and over, “I’ve never seen a church that cared about its neighbours like this.”
One reporter asked us if we were the first church to do something good for our neighbourhood. Certainly not. But somehow, this time, it’s become very visible.
We’ve had water donated by strangers – “Let us help. It’s our community too.”
We’ve had volunteers we’ve only just met – “Yeah, these guys are a church, and they’re just GIVING STUFF AWAY, and I’m helping them!”
We’ve had knocks on the door, before we’re ready – “When does the church open?”
We’ve had countless conversations with kids, adults, seniors, atheists, Hindus, Muslims. Some speak French, some English.
We’ve had people talking about us online – “The meaning of the word ‘community’ finally hit me… I had never seen such beautiful and free gestures!!! Thank you so much for making me see this!”
And we’ve had guests on Sunday mornings, redeeming the free coffee card we gave to those who were interested.
We didn’t see it coming. We don’t know how long it will last. We’re re-budgeting as quickly and as creatively as we can to accommodate the expenses of an outreach we didn’t plan. We’re thankful for friends that are helping. And we’re celebrating, feeling a little like Philip must have felt in John 6:5-6 when Jesus saw a great crowd approaching and asked Philip how they could feed them. As it turns out, “Jesus asked this only to test him, for He already had in mind what He was going to do.”
What He had in mind was a miracle no one had ever imagined.
Presumably, He does this time too.
Patti Miller is lead pastor at Evangel Pentecostal Church in Montreal. Read Faith Today‘s interview with Miller in our Mar/Apr issue.