For the last few years, dozens of people have gathered in our home every Monday night for dinner. Most weeks we eat well, like really well, with minimal planning and without a lot of extra time or effort. At this point, it almost feels easy and this gathering carries on in our home even when we’re out-of-town. Of course, it didn’t start this way from the beginning and we want to share some of the lessons we learned (many the hard way) over the last few years.
One of the assumptions that people make when we tell them about our Monday night meals, is that we must live in a big fancy house. The truth is that our house is not small but it is far from fancy and the main things that make our home work well for hosting a missional community are intentional choices that nearly everyone could make (though perhaps not all at the same scale).
In this post I want to focus on just a few choices we made about the actual physical space in our home that makes it easier to host a few dozen people on a regular basis without a lot of extra effort.
Think creatively about your existing spaces
When we first moved into our house, we put the dinner table in the “dining room” and the couches in the “living room”, you know… like you do. When we began thinking about hosting a missional community in our home, it was very clear that we would have several families and at least as many small children as adults. In short, it was critical for us to have more places for people to sit and eat at a table than the ten we could currently handle at our single table in our “dining room”. But our dining room could only fit one table, so what could we do?
Well, for us, the first step was to realize that the only real reason the “living room” wasn’t called a “dining room” was because it didn’t yet have our dining room table(s) in it. So we moved the couches into the “dining room” and viola, it magically became our living room. Then we snagged an old table and chairs that belonged to one of our grandparents to go along with our existing table and put them in what was previously the “living room” but now suddenly became our dining room. Just like that we had seating for 20 instead of 10. Then we scrounged up a few smaller tables and stuck them in our sun room, which we hadn’t really figured out what to do with anyways after it no longer made sense for our preteens to have a toy room. Now we had seating for around 35!
Now I know this next sentence will seem a bit radical, but stick with me… After we got all these tables set up in our house for people to eat at every Monday night, we just left it like that for the rest of the week. Seriously, we just left it that way. Three years later, it still makes me smile to look around at my ex-living-room-turned-diner and reflect on all the meals, conversations and family moments that have happened at all these tables. The truth is that most of us in the states have more than enough space for our nuclear families on a daily basis and it wouldn’t inconvenience us all that much to rearrange our homes to make space for our spiritual family. Besides the benefit of family meals, our peculiar restaurant-like setup sparks many a good conversation with friends and neighbors who don’t follow Jesus. Boom, missional interior decorating!
Think outside the labels on your floor plan. How might you simply rearrange the furniture to make more room for hosting a missional community?
Don’t Be Afraid to set some boundaries
Another hard lesson we had to learn was that it’s okay, and in fact necessary, to set some boundaries about where people are allowed to go in your home. When we first started gathering in our home, the many kids that where a part of our extended family on mission would often head upstairs to play. They had a great time playing in our girls’ room and trying on all their dress up cloths and just generally making a giant mess up there.
After about the 3rd or 4th time this happened our girls started to resent the intrusion into their private space just a bit, not to mention the clean up fell mostly on their shoulders. They had fun and enjoyed playing with their friends and so they didn’t want to say no when the kids asked to “go upstairs and play”. It wasn’t obvious to us right away but after we realized what was going on and set a general “nobody is allowed upstairs” boundary, the stress level plummeted.
It’s legit to have some private space that the extended family isn’t allowed into. It’s okay for people to wait their turn for the only bathroom on the main floor rather than head upstairs. It’s really okay to have a part of your house that you never even have to worry about what it looks like or what is lying around (I’m looking at you, piles of dirty socks).
We’ll deal with not stressing over the state of the main space in a different post but for now, set some boundaries and communicate them clearly to your family on mission. It really is a key to making this whole thing sustainable for the long haul, and both spiritual family and mission take time — like, a lot of time.
One Other Thing To Consider
Even after you have creatively rearranged your living spaces, you may find that a small “home improvement” project or two makes a really big difference. Let me just share a couple smallish projects that made a really big improvement to our capacity to regularly host our big family dinners.
Even after we put three tables in the sun room, people didn’t end up sitting in that room as much because it was physically closed off from the dining room (typical for a hundred year old house). The solution was to open up the wall between the two rooms, but that wall also happen to be bearing the weight of the floor above so we couldn’t just blow it out without expending major amounts of time and money. So, my daughter and I embarked on a pretty simple project of just opening up spaces between the existing studs and creating pass-throughs that really help everyone in both rooms feel connected to each other!
The next project was something we just wanted as a family anyway but the fact that we needed more seating for Monday dinners was just the motivation I needed to make it happen. Our sun room has always seemed to just be screaming for a breakfast nook of some sort and by keeping the design really simple and reusing one of the tables we already had, I was able to make it happen at a very low-cost. This project added another half-dozen spots to our table capacity and has become our favorite place to eat and pray every morning as a family. Win!
These are just a few of the intentional choices we made about our physical space to make room for being a family on mission, we hope they inspire you to think through your own space.