Fellowship often involves eating, and, maybe because summer is so short, my church family likes to eat outdoors. For years, we had picnic tables next to the front entrance of our church building. Then, as part of an Eagle Scout project, a young member built us a sheltered picnic pavilion on the church grounds where we could use our tables and gas grill. And, in July and August, we have Backyard Fellowship (BYF) every Sunday at 5:30.
BYF is an evening service modified for summer where we hear God's word, sing, pray and ...eat. It is held in a different church family's yard each week. When rain threatens, it is moved to the house's garages or the church building. Participants bring their own chairs and blankets, the meat they want to grill and a side dish or dessert to share. The hosts set up tables and their grill and make lemonade. The church provides paper goods, vinyl tablecloths, plastic silverware and condiments in squeeze bottles. In addition, it allows members to borrow tables, serving spoons, a portable gas grill and large igloo drink dispensers.
In my experience, a good amount of work is done by BYF hosts, and I always try to thank them for their hospitality before I leave because it is an important ministry. Even if you don't have a structured event like BYF, you can foster fellowship by inviting your church to your backyard this summer. To help you, here are some practical hints I have learned along the way.
You are invited
Announcements in the bulletin, church newsletter and on social media are easy to do. In addition, think about personally inviting people who have not participated in the past.
In my church, some members ask their non-Christian friends to attend BYF because it is more low-key and casual than our regular church services. Hosts are wise to inform their neighbors of what they are doing. Neighbors don't always want to come to BYF, but they might think twice before firing up their lawn mowers while the church group is having prayer time.
People like to know what to expect. Be sure to tell them the time and date, what they should bring and where you live. (Because we have members in over 25 towns, not everyone in our church knows how to get to everyone's house.)
On Sunday mornings, before BYF, many of our hosts hand out maps or written directions to their houses with phone numbers included. A member, who has access to sign-making equipment, made several reusable signs that can be stuck in the ground at important intersections along the route to BYF.
Tell guests the parking plan before they arrive. The host should inform them of the town laws about on-street parking, the need to carpool, thoughts about parking on the lawn and a need to reserve spaces next to the house for people with disabilities. If the host knows there will not be enough space to park all the cars, she can ask a neighbor to put some vehicles in her driveway. If the event is after normal business hours, the host can tell people to park in a nearby school or shopping center lot and then provide a shuttle to the house.
Get the setup done early so that you can greet guests as they arrive. Make sure everyone has what he or she needs, including the location of the bathroom. Putting out a few of your own lawn chairs gives the early-arriving guests an idea of where the center of action is. I like to provide a basket equipped with hand sanitizer for those working with food on the grill, a roll of paper towel for inevitable accidents, sunscreen, band aids and bug repellent. Keep a large trash can nearby.
If you are afraid of running out of food, you can request that each family bring two side dishes to share. If you want a good variety of food, ask those whose last names begin with A through L to bring a side dish like a salad or vegetable and ask those whose last names begin with M through Z to furnish a dessert. For ideas involving setting up the food, see my previous posting on buffet style meals.
If entertainment is appropriate, think about what children could play with in your yard. If you don't have a playscape, basketball hoop or swimming pool, consider buying sidewalk chalk, bubbles, a plastic horseshoe set, playground balls, croquet or other lawn games. Some other ideas: We once put out several checkers boards at BYF and conducted a tournament for all ages. One family got permission from its next door neighbors for BYF attendees to visit their llama farm. One property had a zip line.
If you have any ideas for fellowship in the backyard, please share them below. In the meantime, have a great summer!