I play guitar in a band that plays a blend of blues and gospel music. I’m the youngest in the band by at least 15 years, and I’m no spring chicken. So needless to say, we approach this band as a ministry, maybe as something having a local appeal and bring some Good News through music to venues that don’t typically play Christian music. We don’t have any aspirations to become rock stars and tour around the world.
A couple of months ago, we decided to play a full, two-hour concert at a local venue for our friends, fans, and family in our hometown. I had an idea one day. We play gospel music. A lot of people go out to lunch on Sundays after church. Most live music happens at night time, so stages are probably available on Sunday afternoons. Let’s call it… the Gospel Lunch!
The church that our singer goes to, which is also the church that I and our harmonica player used to attend, is located in a downtown area and very close to a pizza restaurant that has a stage. We’ve shown up to this restaurant a couple of times for their open mic nights. Our bass player knows the ownership of the pizza place, so we went up to them one night and said, “We want the stage on a Sunday afternoon. You don’t need to provide any equipment, just the stage, and get ready for a busy lunch hour.” The owner said, “Okay.”
Wow, that was easiest gig we’ve every booked.
Playing a two hour set isn’t easy, especially for a group that isn’t as young as it used to be, so we had to practice hard to build our endurance. We promoted the show all over town and on social media, hoping that it would be a convenient time for all of our friends. We wanted the Gospel Lunch concept to take off.
We initially told the restaurant that we could estimate 50-100 people, but it would be hard to give an exact number. You can’t trust Facebook “event” statistics and responses, because people have the option to respond maybe. “Maybe” is awful. You can’t even split the maybe’s in half and estimate that way, because that is based on a faulty presumption that maybe is 50/50. Human beings are far more maddeningly whimsical than that.
The gig happened on May 7th. For the first time in social media history, every maybe showed up. And a lot of other people, too. The place was packed, full of family and friends, fans from social media, and many from the nearby church. A lot of churchgoers, ordering a lot of pizza, listening to us play…
And the restaurant wasn’t ready for the crowd. They called in every staff that was on standby and they still had trouble keeping up.
We played our hearts out, and the crowd loved it. It felt great. And we figured that the restaurant loved the business; Sunday afternoons aren’t even this busy during football season! But I wondered just how they handled being backed up and overwhelmed.
The staff told me, after the gig, that they felt so bad that the delays were so long. But the crowd was SO NICE. Everyone was forgiving and friendly. The wait staff were truly touched by how this primarily-churchgoer crowd treated them for the inconveniences. I suppose it is sad that they were expecting to get slammed with complaints. But I was every bit as happy with that form of Christian witness as I was with the opportunity to play our music in that environment.
And this is really what it is all about. Publicly, the words “church” and “Christians” carry a lot of baggage now. Misconceptions about who the People of God are, and what they stand for, get fueled by unfortunate, isolated, or maybe out-of-context incidents or people. But this is the type of stuff that makes a small, but real difference.
I do not believe we are going to be the beneficiaries of some large scale event that will change the perception of Christianity today. It seems to me as if Jesus designed this mission of ours to be relational, based on love, and perceptions will change on the smaller scale due to a surprising encounter with God and His people.
The world is not going to make it easy for us! All in all, a big crowd of Christians really only encountered a few wait staff at one local restaurant. But God cares about those few, and how we handle inconveniences, how navigate our lives through varying degrees of turmoil, changes perceptions with the few observers we may have. I loved seeing how God’s people, formed and filled by God’s love and grace, did something as simple as conducting themselves maturely and lovingly in public, to reflect God’s love with the world.