I remember reading about the element of surprise in a business journal which touted, “Surprises are what get talked about.” It is true. My memories are not of the ordinary, but of the extraordinary.
I remember walking into a restaurant where two employees exuberantly opened two big doors, welcoming me in, learned my name, and then used my name throughout my visit.
I remember the camp where we drove in, finding the staff in costumes, swinging down from trees and roof tops, ready to meet and greet us, and then immediately engaging us in games.
I remember the congregation in St. Louis, where a 13 year old boy walked across the sanctuary to welcome my friend and me. He was so genuine and seemed delighted that we were there.
I remember the congregation in Iowa and the hospitality of a pastor, who stood in the parking lot greeting people as they drove in, who invited me to his home afterwards for lunch, and who gifted me with a bottle of his homemade wine.
I remember the friend who flew across the country and showed up unexpectedly at my door during a particularly tough time in my life.
I remember visiting the youth ministry where I was assigned a couple of young hosts who made sure I was introduced to others, that I was included in activities, who sat with me during the program, who explained why they did the things they do, who thanked me for coming.
The journal article was right. I still talk about times that surprised me. I remember the great acts of hospitality, unexpected gifts, fun humor, people who remembered my name, the unannounced extras in the schedule, and the people who showed up when they didn’t have to!
The element of surprise is the element that is most talked about after the event! When the unexpected happens, people remember. They want to come back for more. There is delight in surprise. “I didn’t expect that.” If you want people talking to others about your camp, program, lock-in etc … plan surprises.
I first learned the prayer Surprise Me, Jesus from a small congregation in Pepin, WI. Surprise Me, Jesus became an unwavering part of their prayer experience. Praying this prayer, “Surprise Me, Jesus,” gives permission to do what Jesus does, the unexpected. Jesus welcomes the un-welcomed, heals people, plays jokes (“Throw your nets on the other side,” he says to the disciple who had been fishing all night), is born in a manger, is raised from the dead … surprise after surprise after surprise.
In fact, the more I think about it, every story in the Bible should end with the word SURPRISE!
What unexpected welcomes do you remember?
When people leave your ministry group, what surprised them? What is remembered?
What welcoming surprises could you add?