A Meetup Story

SnowshoeingMy last post on the third great end, “The maintenance of divine worship” clearly revealed how I am approaching my work as the Presbyter for Vision and Mission. I am deeply committed to keeping one foot squarely in the Church world and another foot in the world of emerging spiritual values and forms of the Pacific Northwest. Thus, over the next two months my Sundays will be equally split between worship in churches and worship in the mountains. I have four preaching gigs scheduled and four snowshoe adventures locked into my calendar. My life is good!

connectingAt the end of my blog, I commented that the task of the church may be to become more aware of the spiritual values and forms of worship that have taken root in the lives of people beyond the church. One astute reader commented that the problem may not be the church’s lack of awareness. The problem may be more one of not knowing how to make the connection. It’s the practical question. The reader wrote, how do we in the church “own (those worship practices) ourselves and join them on their journeys.” The commenter challenged me and us to get practical.

So, here is a practical suggestion from my experience in the pastorate.

Before taking this position over four years ago, I organized and facilitated three different Meetup.com groups. Two of them were groups focused on movies and one group was focused on connecting with the Sacred through outdoor adventures.

Here is the story of one of those groups—Movies and Meaning—that I facilitated in Portland for five years and how it unfolded step by step.

TheaterStage One:         I developed an idea that felt like it could be a bridge between the church community and the people who call themselves “spiritual but not religious.” I came up with this “movies and meaning” idea where we would attend a current movie in the theater and then retreat to a pub or wine bar for discussion. The purpose of the discussion was to share our responses to the film from our particular religious, spiritual, and/or philosophical values.

Stage Two: I signed up for a Meetup.com account, crafted my description and invitation to the group, and hit the “activate” button. Within one week, 75 people had joined.

dining out

Stage Three: Over the next three years the group grew to 175 with an average gathering of 10-15 people each event. The group was generally about 85% “spiritual but not religious” and 15% church members. People described themselves as Buddhist Christian, agnostic, spiritual but not religious, lapsed Catholic, spiritual artists, dance spiritualists, and progressive Christian. It was a group rooted in spiritual values but very diverse and eclectic.

Stage Four: Not every month had a good movie that fit the focus of the group. After a few “dud” movies, people in the group finally asked me, “Brian, on the months when there aren’t good choices can we pick a movie and watch it at the church?” I naturally said, “Yes.” The group moved from being an activity sponsored by the church to an activity occasionally meeting in the church.

Stage Five: It became clear that there was a community forming made up of a small percentage of church members and a much larger percentage of community members. The goal had always been to build bridges between these two communities. It was becoming clear that there were areas of shared interest.


In the last year before I shifted to another church position we held two adult study series that served as a bridge and connecting point between the two communities. Adult studies averaged 30 people with half from the church and half from the community at large. We had moved from being two communities sharing one building to one community (at least during those adult studies) learning and studying together.

What are the lessons from this:

  • People in the Pacific Northwest do want to engage in meaningful discussions about religion and spirituality and connect to other like-minded people.
  • It is possible to build community between the traditional church-going member and the person who identifies as spiritual but not religious;
  • People aren’t necessarily attracted to church. But they are attracted to relationships of trust and integrity.
  • Building community in this age takes time. Simply opening the doors to the church on Sunday is not enough.

I have had success in bringing people together through the Meetup platform three times over the last 15 years. It doesn’t take a Master of Divinity degree to do this, but it does take a person gifted in building relationships of understanding, trust and respect.

Here is all you need:

  1. Just one person with a hobby, an interest, or an idea to share with others;
  2. A commitment from the church to pay the $14.99/month hosting fee;
  3. A commitment from the church to pray for and be open to people who have a different, but equally life-affirming spiritual orientation.

Click HERE to learn more how to connect your church to the community through Meetup.

Need ideas?

  • Hiking groupOutdoors, Tourist, Hiking, Walking, Explorer
  • Cycling group
  • Knitting group
  • Quilting groupA young woman's hands quilting
  • Fine dining group
  • Philosophy group
  • Lectio Divina group
  • Bible study group
  • Meditation groupmeditation
  • Tai chi group
  • Yoga group
  • Cultural travel group
  • Pilgrimage group
  • Lectionary group
  • Story-telling group
  • Poets and writers group
  • Dance groupdance
  • Women’s Issues group
  • Racial/Ethnic Support group
  • Caregiver’s Support group
  • Grief and Loss groupwriters group
  • Singles group
  • LGBTQIA group
  • Board Games group
  • Gluten-free cooking group
  • Musical Jams group
  • A cappella group
  • Divorce Support group

Quite honestly, it is not that difficult to build spiritual community in this age. People are hungry for connection and depth. We just have to get out of our church comfort zone and learn how to MEETUP with people on their turf and their terms.

By Rev. Brian Heron, Presbyter for Vision and Mission, Presbytery of the Cascades

8 thoughts on “A Meetup Story

  1. Are you planning too step has a leader? I am a member of Westminster Presbyterian Church. I like to meet new friends.

    Get Outlook for iOS ________________________________


  2. All this works just fine, if you don’t require that the participants accept that Christ died for your sins, or recite the Nicene Creed. I don’t think you can have it both ways.


  3. Worship is “worth shaping.”
    We maintain divine worship when we gather together to shape our worth more and more into the image of the divine. These meet ups (book groups, hiking clubs, yoga, quilting, movies…” can do that in a setting that is stripped of much of the pretense often associated with church.


  4. Another enjoyable read that gives me something to think about. I am reminded of our Mariner’s groups in Sacramento and Pendleton, in the 1970s and 1980s – food, service, camping, leading a worship service in church, occasional adult ed, laughing, singing. Not much in the way of movies, but they would certainly work today. I also read Weird Church a couple of years ago. Keep the ideas flowing.
    En paz
    Bill Griffith Jr


  5. Yes, the Mariner’s Groups are good examples of what I am talking about. I think the change in culture is that Mariner’s groups were something you joined after joining the larger congregation. It used to be that you could depend on people coming in the doors on Sunday and then eventually to Mariner’s. Now you need to start those groups with a very loose affiliation to the church (otherwise it will scare people off) and hope that eventually you might be able to integrate them into the church community.


  6. Brian, you are doing what we are to do as the Body…extend love. To eschew rules on what you bring into the gathering, as in what people believe or perceive; is to welcome discourse. People only attend Meetup events that interest them. Once there, they see a mix of people from the wider community. To do it this way promotes inclusion, rather than exclusion.
    I love Christ, and live in Him – but only because at one point someone did not exclude me. I was not given a ‘box’ to fit into before being accepted. God met me where I was, as I was…by sending one person to ‘Meetup’ with a message my mind could weigh and feast upon. It changed me.
    Kudos to you for taking the church outside. Our savior did just that.
    I am being prepared to do the same. To open a sanctuary where those who have been hurt by the church, or are going through a desert of the heart – experiencing a disconnect from God. And also for people who need a place to go and worship via music, creative arts or to express their faith through shared conversation. Some cannot speak freely, even in their own home, marriage, or church group without fear of reprisal or condemnation.
    Where to host it is what comes next.
    Have a glorious day,


  7. Jeffery,
    Thank you for your reply. I was especially taken with your comment that it was the act of extending love and acceptance (inclusion) that came first and then your commitment to Christ followed. It seems to me that that should be our model these days–inclusion first and trust God for the rest!



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