Today is the 1st in a 4-part series entitled “Why Church?” Because many Christians are uncomfortable inviting others to worship, the aim of this series is to help us become a more invitational congregation by equipping us with an understanding of why it is important to invite others as well as a some practical ways to issue an invitation to people we know.
Sermon #2: “Sainthood: Being an Everyday Christian Every Day” (All Saints Sunday)
Sermon #3: “Why Church?”
Sermon #4: “Welcome!”
Scripture: Romans 10:9-15
I’d like each of you to take just a moment to look around this room. What I want you to note are all the empty spaces in the pews. If we had chairs instead of pews, I’d have you noting the empty chairs. Either way, those empty places where no one is currently sitting represents a person in the community who is either a Christian disconnected from a faith community, or a person who doesn’t yet personally know Jesus Christ. What would it take for these empty places in our sanctuary to be filled? More importantly, what are we willing to do to fill these empty places? Are we willing to do whatever it takes?
Any commitment to filling this place of worship would not be done for our own sake. That is, to satisfy our own desire to have a full church so that we feel good about having lots of people here. It would not be about returning to our glory days from the past. If we have any need for them, it’s the need for a larger pool of people who will go out from here and share the Good News of Jesus Christ; the need for a greater number of people to accomplish our mission of developing new and maturing followers of Jesus Christ.
But there’s another need –their need. If you’re of the theological position that all spiritual pathways lead to Heaven, then you’ll probably be offended by the notion that the unchurched living among us have a spiritual need that we currently have met in our own lives. But if you believe that Jesus Christ is uniquely who Scripture tells us he is—Savior and Lord of creation—and that he alone is who he says he is—the only way to the Father, the truth, and the life—then you’ll probably agree that one of the reasons we’re called to share the Good News is so that those who are still dead in their sins, as all of us were at some point, might come to saving faith in Jesus Christ. That we would share our faith for their own sake. Not only for their sake for today—because we know that life in Christ has lots of earthly benefits—but for their eternal sake as well.
So, the question still needs to be answered. Whatever reason may motivate us to reach out to those not currently here, what are we willing to do to fill this space? Are we willing to do whatever it takes?
To be sure, there are many things a church can do to reach out to people in the community. Our Outreach Team has been charged with the task of creating ways for our church to connect with the unchurched. But when all is said and done, it’s not going to be the work of the Outreach Team that connects with those not here as much as it will be the work of you and me doing something quite simple: inviting people to worship, or any church function for that matter.
The key word is invite. What’s the #1 reason people try out a church, maybe even for the first time? When they’re invited. Not advertising in the local paper. Not advertising on the local radio station. Not even by getting word out via social media. But a personal, face-to-face, spoken invitation.
Does that mean everyone will accept your invitation? Of course not. In fact, there’ll probably be more “Thanks, but no thanks” responses than “Thanks, I’ll be there” responses. But it’s just like hockey. The more shots on goal a team makes, the more likely they’ll be to make some of those shots. Likewise, the more invitations that are issued, the more likely it is that we’ll see guests here. One thing’s for sure, invite no one, and very few will come.
So, what are the how-to’s when it comes to inviting people to church? I’ll address that starting next week. Today, however, I want to try to lay the groundwork for being ready to invite someone to church.
Being ready to invite someone to church. Why would you need to prepare yourself to invite someone to church? Well, let me answer this question with another question. What would be your response if someone you invited asked you, “Why?” Why should I go to church? If you were asked that question today, would you be prepared to answer it?
Really, the best answer you can prepare is one that you already know. And that’s because it’s the answer to the question, “Why do I go to church?” It may be that you’ve never given that question much thought, but it probably wouldn’t take you long to jot down an answer.
Here’s what I would say. I’d say, “Well, I’ll tell you why I go to church. I go because it’s I know that no matter how messed up I feel or how much I’ve messed up things in my own life, it’s the one place I can go on a regular basis and I’m going to hear that I’m still loved, and still worthy of that love. It’s the one place I’m going to meet others who have similar struggles, and together we’re going to help each other through those struggles. It’s a place where I’m going to hear a word of good news and hope even as I’m inundated every day with bad news and hopelessness. It’s a place where I’m developing friendships that go beyond just watching football together, or drinking together, or complaining about government together. It’s a place where I’m learning how to be a better husband, a better father, a better friend, and a better person. It’s a place where I’m challenged to be better, and forgiven when I fail.”
Did you notice what I didn’t say in my reason? In this case, I didn’t say anything about God or Jesus. Between you and me, my relationship with God in Jesus Christ has everything to do with my reason for worshipping every week. But my guess is that most non-church folk don’t wake up Sunday morning’s wondering about how church might help them in their relationship with God. That part of the answer can come later. And it should come. But when you invite someone who’s only stepped inside a church on account of a wedding or funeral, they’re probably more interested in whether or not the people here are going to accept them if they show up in jeans and sneakers. Will they be rebuffed if their hair long, or if they arrive on a motorcycle, or if they’re sporting a couple armloads of tattoos. Will coming to church be a positive experience for them? Will they get quiet, cold stares, or will people actually come up to them and show genuine interest? That’s why a first answer might not necessarily include churchy reasons.
But how about beyond that surface reason—can you say why you’re a Christian? Let’s assume that they take their question to the next level and ask you why you’re a Christian. Could you answer that? Could you tell them in 2-3 minutes how you came to faith in Jesus Christ, and the difference that makes in your life? Because that’s really the starting place when it comes to inviting someone to church—you yourself knowing what draws you here in the first place. So as you think about the possibility of inviting someone to worship, I’d encourage you to take a few minutes to jot down 1) why YOU come here, and 2) how you came to faith in Jesus and what difference that makes in your own life.
When I say “evangelism,” what comes to mind? A street preacher? A person going house to house, knocking on the door and asking the question, “If you died tonight, do you know if you’d go to Heaven?”? Do you think of having to memorize a ton of Scripture verses so that you can quote chapter and verse as an answer to peoples’ questions? Because while those are all a certain aspect of evangelism, they’re not the only way of doing it. (They’re probably some of the least effective ways of doing evangelism.)
In fact, in the truest sense, evangelism boils down to this: building relationships. Building relationships is the crux of evangelism. Why? Because any eventual talk about Jesus or God is best had with someone who will listen to you, who trusts you. Someone who knows you.
I’m not talking about having to make 20 new best friends. I’m just talking about getting to know persons beyond talk about the weather. I’m thinking about the person who cuts your hair. The bank teller you’ve been chatting with for years, who knows you by name. The person who lives across the street that you periodically have a conversation with. Your child’s private music teacher. Beyond family members and life-long friends, who are the people in your life that you’ve developed some level of friendship with over time?
These are folks with whom you’ve already built a relationship. And it very well could be that because of that friendship, they might be open to an invitation to join you here for worship on Sunday, November 19.
Listen again to the reason the Apostle Paul gives us to want to see our church full of people. He writes, If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord” and in your heart you have faith that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved….All who call on the Lord’s name will be saved (given eternal life).
And then he asks the question that gets to the heart of the matter. How can they call on someone they don’t have faith in? And how can they have faith in someone they haven’t heard of? And how can they hear without a preacher? Here, “preacher” could be a reference to a clergyperson. But I think the context indicates that it refers to someone who’s able and willing to share their faith story. In the case, to ‘preach’ is to proclaim. And every single person here is surely able to proclaim what and why you believe.
When you came into the sanctuary this morning, each of you should have picked up 2 index cards. Here’s what I’d like you to do with them. I’d like you to write 3-4 names on them. You’ll put the same names on each card. And just write down first names. Write down the names of some people you know, at least casually, who you might invite to worship on November 19. A moment ago I suggested some people you might now – hairdresser, bank teller, etc. Take just a moment sometime this morning to think about the people you come into contact with, and write their names on the cards. Keep one card for yourself, and take home and pray over those names. Then pin the second card to the board that’s out in the narthex so that we can see all the names that we’re praying for.
And then this week, jot down for yourself 1) why you come to church; 2) how you came to faith in Christ. And then ask God to create an opportunity for you to ask any or all of them about joining you here in worship on Nov. 19. But if all you do this week is note your own story and pray for these persons, that will be a great start.