Ask my wife and she'll tell you that what convinced her I was the one she would spend the rest of her life with was when I told her that I wanted a house with a wrap around porch. In our almost 13 years of marital euphoria we have yet to live in that kind of a house, but the one we just moved into does have an upstairs and downstairs front porch (see picture above).
I absolutely love a front porch! More than just a place to sit and watch life go by, front porches represent a lot about our culture. The front porch is a symbol of community, a way of telling all who walk nearby that it's okay to stop and talk and sit awhile. When someone is one their front porch that means that they are willing to share life with you. I know that may seem like a stretch for some to believe, but when people put themselves out there in front of other people it represents an open invitation for you to come and be a part of their lives.
If you look at most newly constructed homes today you will find that hardly any have a front porch that's made for spending any time on. Instead you see front stoops, areas just big enough to stand on until the door is opened for you to enter. These same homes will typically have a back porch or deck of some kind that is semi-private, a place where people can go after a long day of work and retire to some well earned privacy. The lack of a front porch seems to suggest that once the occupant has entered the front door it is do-not-disturb until you are notified otherwise.
This new community that we live in is full of homes with front porches. Even in the cold of winter we have found people on their front porches, sitting with a cup of coffee or tea as they watch the world around them. We wave and speak, they wave and speak back. In fact, the first person I met on the day we moved in was on his front porch and the initial wave and greeting turned into a thirty minute conversation. He and his wife are coming for dinner tomorrow night with their infant twin daughters.
To me, that's what community is about. It's being unafraid to open up to other people and allowing them to see the real you. It's sitting on your front porch and welcoming others to come and share life with you. No peeking through the curtains to see if the coast is clear.
The church could learn a lot from front porches. Most believers see the church building as a retreat from the world where they can live a Boo Radley type existence without having to worry about being bothered by those on the outside. We stay inside until we are done with our business and then we retreat to our homes and schools and jobs. In doing so we send a clear message to the rest of the world: This is our house and our business. Respect our privacy!
What I long to see are front porch style churches, gatherings of believers who engage the world around them. When people pass them on the street, they will feel welcome among them. People no longer have to wonder what goes on behind those closed doors because the truth of the gospel is lived around them. Community isn't about keeping a close record of church attendance but rather about keeping in close contact with each other. It's time to open the door and sit on the front porch for awhile.