One of the most fruitful things my family has experienced in the past few years is an embarrassingly simple relational recalibration. The shift started during a busy season of life. God drew me back to those who were far from the Church who I called friends.
We moved into our current neighborhood and met a diverse group of new friends. I put forth effort to reengage unkept friendships with those far from the Church. My wife and I put priority toward exiting an accidental Christian bubble that had grown around us and giving some of our best time to friends who didn’t know Jesus. Regular, ongoing and meaningful relationship developed. This was energizing and exciting.
It was quite a balance. We still had close Jesus-loving friends, of course. Suddenly I realized I had no overlap of friends who knew Jesus and friends who didn’t. I would talk about my friends on either side of this spectrum, but they would never meet one another. My friends who didn’t know Jesus never got to see the beauty of Christian community; my friends who love Jesus never got to enjoy the company of non-Christians. What’s worse, this partitioning of my relationships had a more insidious effect: there was a fundamental gap in my relationships—on one side, Christian friends, on the other side, outreach projects.
Something about this never felt right to me. Our friends were separate but equal in our minds. Equal in value, equal and in priority and close to equal in time we invested. But the problem was they were separate. There was no overlap. We knew something needed to change.
In all honesty I was afraid. These fears were legit. I didn’t want my non-Christian friends to feel judgment instead of love, and I didn’t want to accidentally dislodge many of the fragile relationships that had slowly developed over time. I would have to lose control and rely on God again.
We began to look for shared spaces of meaning and fun to merge these two groups. Dinners parties, game nights, football games and block parties became perfect mediums to create what we now call “collective overlap”. We helped our Jesus-loving friends to understand the fears some of our friends had about hanging out with “Jesus people”. We began to watch people who were our friends simple become friends.
Finding collective overlap not only addressed the primary problems of an insular Christian community and a lack of exposure to the gospel among my non-Christian friends; it helped me to close the gap between outreach and relationship. My non-Christian friends were no longer projects; they were friends. The gospel became not something I was selling, but something I was living and weaving into every aspect of relationships.
Intentionally creating collective overlap for people who do know Jesus and those who don’t is a risk, but it’s surprisingly simple: With some intention and effort our front yards, living rooms and social gatherings are great, natural spaces for collective overlap to occur. Most folks I meet already have some collective overlap, but they have never intentionally developed it.
It’s been interesting to watch these world collide. We have hosted several large Easter dinners where family, friends and neighbors have come together for one chaotically awesome feast. I invited friends from both groups together for my annual (and sacred) guys outdoor trip. Beautiful overlap and friendship started during those four days that continues today. One night my neighbors walked into my house to retrieve their kids only to find twenty folks gathered around a couple, with hands laid on them, praying intensely for their future ministry. This led to a few awkward moments but great conversations with my neighbors the next week.
To settle into sustained incarnational ministry we simply must create collective overlap. We must lessen the gap between relationship, those we call friends, and those we want to come to know our Jesus. Get intentional. Recalibrate. Pray. Take a risk.
What spaces can you utilize to create collective overlap?