Friday, April 21, 2017
If invited. . .
Symbolism is important. When I first came to my present parish, it did not seem unusual that there was no door facing what was, by all accounts, one of the busiest roads in the city. After all, there was no parking that faced the busy street and the entrance to the building was amply identified from the parking lot. A few years after we built on and put up a steeple and a door (though to the offices) and a small parking lot that faced the busy thoroughfare, a longtime resident of the city talked to me about it. He said that to the folks driving by, the lack of an identifiable entrance seemed to say that this was a closed church -- closed to outsiders and open only to insiders who knew the code, namely, where to enter. I had never thought of it before but was glad we had decided to make a clear statement of an entrance when adding onto the facility.
Even people who do not think they ever want to attend, want to know that they could if they wanted to. I had never thought about it before but it is certainly true of the invitation. It may well be that those we invite do not become regular attenders or members but they want to know that they could if they desired.
Another story. A neighbor family beside where we lived finally showed up one Sunday to see what kind of church this was and what kind of pastor I was. Neighbors joke and wave and do neighborly things and they were not sure what kind of person I would be in church. They came and found out that the reverence of the Divine Service and the presence of God within His Word and Sacrament proved to be a very different kind of church and a very different kind of clergy than they had ever experienced before or expected from me and the parish I served. They moved and years passed and guess what -- this family was catechized and received into a Lutheran church. It was a spark that went on to ignite a faith, a seed planted that bore fruit. I would have never expected it of them, but, as they say in Mayberry, "surprise, Surprise, surprise!" Barna's 47% may not immediately translate into folks showing up in droves but how shall they hear if no one tells them and how shall they respond if no one invites?
One more thing, people will invite more freely when what they are confident and proud of their church. This means that the little things that may not mean much to insiders, count to the outsiders. Maintain the facility. Be sure to extend a friendly welcome. Do the best you can do (those in the chancel and those outside). Follow up. Remember the name. These are the little things we can do. God does the heavy lifting. He speaks the living Word and bestows the Spirit to bring those to faith who believe and He has promised that His Word will not return to Him empty. It will accomplish His purpose. We don't do the big stuff but we can and must take care of the little things. An invitation. A welcome. An invited facility. An effort in pulpit, at the altar, and on the organ bench. It is not rocket science. This is the stuff we can do and should do. And if we do this and the congregation does not grow, leave it to the Lord. But if we won't do at least this, perhaps we might be part of the problem in churches that do not grow.
Barna is full of stats but this one seems designed to encourage reticent Lutherans. Perhaps half of those who you meet without a church home would be interested in your invitation. All of those who hear the Word meet the Lord and His Spirit working for the sake of their faith and salvation. A potent combination, indeed.