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Running Open House in a Christian context

Gemma Milligan

31 Oct, 2022



Hello, my name is Gemma and I am the creator of Open House. As part of the Youthscape team and a volunteer youth worker at my local church I spend time with young people nearly every day and love seeing them grow and develop in their sense of self, their faith, and their relationships with others. I am a committed Christian who sees in Jesus a God who went out of his way to show love to the outcasts, and so am particularly passionate about supporting those who are vulnerable, struggling, and often overlooked. The Open House programme was born out of a desire to come alongside young people who feel lonely, isolated and like they don’t fit in, and in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic has quickly developed into a resource that can help facilitate reconnection and deeper friendships within all young people’s lives.

As a result of the pandemic many young people are more isolated and have more fractured relationships than ever, and my hope is that churches and other youth work organisations will use this resource as a means to help provide support around this need. Not only will those who take part in Open House learn different tools they can use to invest in their relationships with others, they will also engage in new experiences together and form new connections that will help to give them a greater sense of belonging.

If you’re reading this then you will have seen the Open House programme and be aware that it can be run in a few different ways depending upon the needs of the young people you are working with and the setting in which you are based. Open House has been developed to be accessible to all young people, however as Youthscape is a Christian youth work organisation, it is underpinned by theology. This theology has shaped the programme’s design and content, and so if you are running it in a church or other Christian setting then there are a few ways that you can explicitly pull out the faith elements. This document outlines the foundational theology and gives three options for how you can overtly incorporate faith when you are running the programme.

Theology of Open House

Our first glimpse of God, right at the beginning of the Bible, indicates that he is all about relationship. He exists in relationship within himself, and it is out of this relationship that he creates humans:

“Then God said, ‘Let us make human beings in our image to be like us’...So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:26-27)

Christians believe in the mystery of the Trinity: that God is one, and yet simultaneously three persons, in communion with each other: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Made in God’s image, we too were designed for relationship with God and others, but sadly, as we can see evidenced all around us, we have messed it up. This means that many of us struggle to have the depth and quality of relationships that we want.

Throughout the Bible we see God acting in a range of ways to restore this brokenness, and most directly, through the person of Jesus. Entering our world in fully divine, fully human form, he perfectly depicted what meaningful relationships look like, and there is much we can learn from how he interacted with others. One of the most notable ways Jesus connected with those around him whilst he lived on earth was through food. In fact, he often crossed social barriers by eating with those viewed as outcasts, and did so regularly enough to be accused of being a glutton and a drunkard!

The act of eating together carries such meaning to God that he instructs us to do so regularly through the practice of communion. Not only are we to do this together in community, but God asks us to do so in remembrance of what Jesus did on the cross to restore the fractured relationship between God and humanity. The link between food and relationship in the Kingdom of God cannot be ignored.

Open House takes this principle of food as a significant facilitator of deep connection, and uses the acts of cooking and eating together to create a space for meaningful relationships to be built within the group. It also teaches around 8 ‘Relationship Ingredients’ which we believe God both demonstrates and encourages us to practice in our relationships with him and others. We want young people to learn to practice these in their own relationships so they can begin to experience the kind of relationships God designed them for.

As the Open House programme has been built upon this foundation, we believe that it will have a positive impact upon young people’s relationships in whatever context it is run. However, if it is being run in a Christian context, we believe that it can also have great impact upon young people’s faith by creating an opportunity for them to reflect upon their relationship with God. We believe that taking the time to invest in young people’s relationships with him will, in turn, transform their relationships with others even more significantly. If this is something you would like to incorporate into your sessions, please do follow the guidance below.

How to incorporate faith into Open House

If you are running Open House in a Christian context then there are three ways you can incorporate faith overtly into the programme:

1. Discuss The Theology

At the beginning of the first session, when you introduce the programme and the first ‘Relationship Ingredient’, read out the first 4 paragraphs in the theology section of this leaflet. If you have the time to do so (you may choose to increase the length of the first session if you would like to incorporate this) do discuss the following questions:

  • Why do you think relationships are so important to God?
  • How would you explain the mystery of the Trinity to someone who has never heard about it before?
  • What evidence can you see of messed up relationships with God and others in the world?
  • Jesus entered the world in human form - what does this tell us about the kind of relationship God wants us to have with him?
  • Why do you think food is such a great tool for connection?
  • What do you think about the fact that God wants to have relationship with you?

2. Say Grace

Before you ‘Eat & Discuss’ together as a group, take the time to thank God for the food that has been made and is about to be eaten. If appropriate and the young people feel confident enough, you could ask one of them to take the lead on this during each session.

3. Use Faith-Based Discussion Questions

Use faith-based discussion questions with the young people during the ‘Eat & Discuss’ part of the session. You could choose to mix some of the questions in the main session plan with some of those below, or substitute them completely. Do feel free to make this decision based upon your context and where the young people you are working with are at on their faith journey.

Discussion Questions

If you are running Open House in a Christian context, read out the short paragraph under each ‘Relationship Ingredient’ heading below during the introduction of each session and include the discussion questions in the ‘Eat & Discuss’ section.

1. Communication

We believe God gave us the Bible as a way for us to ‘hear’ from him - it’s one of the signs that he really cares about communicating with us. The Bible is 'God’s word’ - meaning that human writers were inspired directly by God to write down what he wants to say to us. God also loves it when we talk to him, and he invites us to do that through prayer.

Discussion Questions:

  • Do you think it is easy to ‘hear’ from God when reading the Bible? Why?
  • Why do you think God chooses to communicate with us through the Bible?
  • What things make it hard for us to pray and talk to God? Why?
  • In what other ways do you think God communicates with us? In what other ways can we communicate with him?
  • Do you find it easy to talk to God? Why?

2. Authenticity

We believe God is always real, honest, genuine, and true to himself - basically he is fully authentic! It is impossible for him to be fake, and we see this in all of Jesus’ actions when he lived on earth. He was so authentic that he refused to hide the fact that he was the Son of God even though it annoyed the Jewish religious people and Roman rulers so much that they ended up killing him.

Discussion Questions:

  • Do you think it would have been easy for Jesus to be open about who he was when he lived in a society that was ruled by Romans (people who didn’t worship the God of the Bible)? Why?
  • Think about some of the stories you know of Jesus - are there any where you find his honesty and authenticity inspiring?
  • How do you think Jesus’ authenticity helped him during his time on earth, and how do you think it made his life more difficult?
  • Why do you think Jesus was able to be honest about who he was even in the face of death?
  • Do you find it easy to be real with God? Why?

3. Trust

We believe God has given humans the choice to follow him or not ever since the world was created - it’s one of the signs that he trusts us to make our own decisions. Even though he has the power to force us to do what he wants (and our own choices often lead to bad consequences) he gives this power to us instead. Although he wants us to choose to have relationship with him, he keeps trusting us with the power to make our own decisions about our lives.

Discussion Questions:

  • Why do you think God trusts us with the choice to follow him or not?
  • What do you think this tells us about his character?
  • Do you think God is trustworthy? Why?
  • Why do you think we often misuse the power he has given us to make decisions?
  • Do you find it easy to trust God? Why?

4. Forgiveness

We believe God does lots of things throughout the Bible to fix our relationship with him - a relationship that we have messed up over and over again through our own silly choices. The biggest thing God has done for us is sending Jesus to die on the cross and take the consequences of all that we have done wrong upon himself. Instead of turning his back on us and trying to make us pay of the mess we have made, God gives everything to make the relationship work again - he forgives us for all we have done.

Discussion Questions:

  • Why do you think God chooses to forgive us rather than get his own back?
  • How does knowing that God forgives us make you feel?
  • Do you think it is right that God forgives anyone who asks for it? Why?
  • Do you think the fact that God always forgives us gives us permission to do whatever we want? Why?
  • Do you find it easy to receive God’s forgiveness? Why?

5. Empathy

We believe God chose to come to earth in the person of Jesus, and one of the reasons he did so was to experience what life is like for us. He dealt with many of the same struggles and felt the same emotions that we do - it’s why he is able to understand and empathise with us in all that we go through.

Discussion Questions:

  • What does God’s decision to enter and live in the world in the person of Jesus tell us about his character?
  • Does knowing that God lived on earth in the person of Jesus make him more relatable? Why and how?
  • Can you think of any stories in the Bible where Jesus showed that he understood people’s experiences?
  • How does Jesus having lived on earth make Christianity different from other religions?
  • Do you find it easy to believe that God understands you, your emotions and the things you go through? Why?

6. Generosity

We believe God gives humans lots of good things in life - the people around us, nature, food and drink, our skills and abilities, and more. These things are available to all humans, but for those of us who choose to follow him he is even more generous. When we have a relationship with God he also gives us peace, strength, courage, hope, and so much more - we receive more and more of his generosity as we get to know him.

Discussion Questions:

  • What good things has God given to all humans?
  • Do you think humans see these things as gifts from God? Why?
  • What extra gifts of generosity does God give to those who have a relationship with him?
  • Why do you think God is so generous to us? Do you believe that he is?
  • In what specific ways has God been generous to you?

7. Celebration

We believe God loves a party! When Jesus lived on earth he went to lots of festivals, parties, and spent plenty of time taking part in the Jewish feasts - he definitely enjoyed a celebration. God also encourages us to celebrate all the things he has done for us, and to specifically remember what Jesus did on the cross by practicing communion (having bread and wine to symbolise his body and blood) together.

Discussion Questions:

  • Would you ever have described Jesus as a party animal? Why?
  • Why do you think it is so important to God that we celebrate communion? • What other things in life do you think God would want us to celebrate?
  • How can we celebrate in ways that are different to the world around us?
  • Do you find it easy to celebrate God and what he has done for us? Why?

8. Self-Awareness

We believe God wants us to live the way he created us to be - free from the desire to make choices that hurt ourselves, others and him. To do that we need to be able to see where we are going wrong and to recognise who we can be with God - we need to be self-aware. When Jesus lived on earth he made it clear that he knew exactly who he was and what he was there to do, and he wants us to know this for ourselves too.

Discussion Questions:

  • Why do you think it is important to be self-aware in our relationship with God?
  • Why do you think that our natural response as humans is to try and hide our flaws from God and others?
  • Why do you think Jesus was so self-aware?
  • Do you think that God can help us to become more self-aware? How?
  • Do you find it easy to recognise and admit to God the things that you have done wrong? Why?

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