A house is not a home

Arena Motel

Most motels where people live are simply a collection of strangers. Many motel residents live with guilt and shame, some just prefer anonymity, and others are just downright not sociable. As a result, residents don’t really know each other and they often act like strangers. Because of these conditions many weekly motels experience a high incidence of 911 calls, criminal activity, drug use, property damage, violence, and instability among their residents. Front office staff often get the brunt of this anonymous, unhappy population, especially when they have to enforce policies designed to maintain stability in the motel.

These motels are the land of the unknown, a place where people don’t know each other, where a veil of anonymity justifies all kinds of behavior.

What’s clear about this is that a building where people live is not necessarily a home. That takes another ingredient, which is what we see happening in motels where motel churches are planted.

Here’s a typical story. It’s a Sunday morning and two couples are sitting beside each other on chairs on the motel courtyard lawn during a motel church service. The kids of one family notice the kids of the family sitting beside them. Within minutes both sets of kids are playing together while the parents eat and listen to a message of hope and encouragement.

When the message ends and the service is over, the first couple casually asks the other couple where they live, only to learn that the families live next door to each other in the motel. Their kids are about the same age, the parents have similar interests, and a friendship quickly forms. The two families leave the service to hang out and let their kids play together.

A modern day phenomenon? Not really.

Look back to the 1800s. The Wild West was like that. Frontier towns were pretty lawless until a church came to town. Then, as people gathered in the church on Sundays they got acquainted and once they knew each other they were no longer strangers. That meant it was no longer a good idea to go into town and get drunk and shoot up the saloon on Saturday night because people knew who you were and were going to see you on Sunday morning in church. What would people say? How could you hold your head up in town after that?

This is what happens in a motel with a motel church; a collection of strangers becomes a community of neighbors held together by an unspoken covenant of accountability.

Motel owners and managers tell us they see dramatic changes within 6-8 months of a motel church being planted in their motel. Residents greet each other by name and with smiles, 911 calls plummet, violence decreases, property damage drops, criminal activity declines, and their guest population becomes much more stable with much reduced backlash and anger toward front desk staff. As a result, the motel business improves and people are happier all the way around.

So, a motel may just be a building, but it gets transformed into a community when the church is there.

And that community makes all the difference in the lives of the people living there.

And that’s the ingredient that makes the motel a home.

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