Warning: There exists some tongue in cheek comments in this post, please be advised to proceed with a sense of humour.
One of the baseline ideas in incarnational, missional church thinking is that we need to go and be church where people are already gathering, rather than inviting them into our already pre-existing gatherings (for the record I do not think it is either or). So you ask yourself, where are people already naturally gathering, and then go and join them. This is part of the thinking that takes me regularly off to the pub. But even within the pub I have noticed that there is an even more natural pre-existing, gathered group, even in the pub culture, a quasi-community if you will, – the smokers.
At my local (and many workplaces and other public gathering points) banished outside to engage in their “filthy, dirty habits” away from the respectable, healthy people who remain inside. What I have always suspected (and a friend recently confirmed this for me) there is a sort of instant bond among smokers. There exists among them an existing commonality of interest. A pre-existing, focal activity which immediately creates a shared experience. People generally bond best together over a shared activity (that is often why mission trips are more powerful relationship creators than a Wednesday small group). Any shared activity means that whether I speak or not speak I have a pre-existing right to be here – I am a smoker. I do not have to earn brownie point on the social rankings to determine my place in this community. I have a right to be here, cast out into the cold, I am a smoker. Is this a form of ministry from the margins?
Where would Jesus be I ask myself? The whole scandal of Luke 5:27-31 is that Jesus eats and drinks with sinners – the outcasts, the no-good. Now, that might be a bit extreme to say smokers are the outcast from society. But they are the cast-out ones from the rest of “respectable” company. What if we were to engage in some incarnational ministry and go be with them, like them – meet them where they are at – go have a smoke with them outside?
What if we considering all the talk of unreached people groups? Perhaps the largest “unreached people’s group” are smokers? Forget the 10-40 window for a minute – what about those outside the window having a smoke? And let’s face it – the overwhelming majority of smokers are not Christians.
Would the apostle Paul light up a ciggie? It was the great apostle who after all spoke of being all things to all people, in order that I may win some (1 Corinthians 9:19-23). Might Paul have lit up in order to win the smokers?
A Christian friend of mine, who is also a smoker knows more people in my neighbourhood simply because whenever she comes to visit she spend quite a bit of time outside having a smoke, greeting people and getting recognised and striking up conversations.
Alright before any well-meaning health freak or Christian or some scary combination of the two jumps all over the comments let me categorically say it, I am not going to take up smoking! For one thing the health plan is terrible. Secondly I would like to kiss my wife again. Thirdly it will be hard to kiss my wife after she kills me.
But I am going to start carrying a lighter. “Got a light mate?”; “Sure, let me get that for you…”