*This article first appeared in the Fall 2018 version of Enrich Magazine.
When I look at Canadian churches that are experiencing growth by conversion, there is one common characteristic I see: they are relentlessly outward bound. At some point they made a decision that they will be about the people who are not yet a part of their church. This seems counterintuitive. Shouldn’t we be serving the ones who give of their time, talent and treasure? Shouldn’t our focus be on those who are already here? My experience in working with healthy churches tells me there is a prevailing outsider focus that drives churches to reach those who are far from God. Is there worship? Yes. Is there fellowship? Yes. Is there training and discipleship? Yes. But at the core, is an understanding that all of that serves the purpose of the Great Commission—to go and make disciples.
It’s a matter of the heart to decide whom the church is really for. When I look at the mission of Jesus, He was all about reaching those who were not yet a part of the kingdom of God (Luke 19:10). Jesus also says that the ultimate outcome of following Him is to be a “fisher of men” (Mathew 4:19). He sends His disciples out in the same way He was sent (John 20:21). When Jesus builds His church, the gates of hell cease to prevail (Matthew 16:18). This means that as the church grows, she will depopulate hell’s postal code. When church leaders get this in their hearts, the church will become relentlessly outward bound, reaching lost people in the community with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
In order for your church to reach lost people, you must build bridges they can cross over. This isn’t simply putting on a carnival in the parking lot and hoping people will show up the next Sunday. It’s about intentional outreaches and community connections that allow you to build relationships with outsiders, invite them to the next event, and eventually have them attend on a Sunday. Church leadership needs to focus on engaging the community that surrounds them. Canvas 75 homes in your neighbourhood and ask, “What is the biggest need in this community?” Then seek to meet one of the top needs in the next four months. You can build relationships with the local school, chamber of commerce, and community service agencies. You can utilize your church building as a community hub. You can be a church that is in the community, for the community and about the community.
In order for your church to reach lost people, your people must be inviters. You need to create opportunities for your congregation to invite people. A big opportunity for invitation is your Sunday morning services. If you create services that are relevant, engaging and welcoming to unbelievers, your believing congregation should seize the opportunity to invite others. Developing an invitational culture means equipping your congregation with the tools and language to bring along their friends, family, neighbours or co-workers who do not currently attend a church. You can utilize social media for your congregation to easily share events, quotes or articles. You can take big days (Christmas Eve, Easter, Mother’s Day) and turn them into great opportunities to invite people to church. You can create services and message series that make your congregation say, “I need to invite my friend. This is exactly what we were talking about last week.” You can look at every program in your church (youth, kids, women’s’, men’s etc.) and alter it so that your people want to invite others to join them.
THE MAIN QUESTION
It all comes down to this one question: “Where in your church are people coming to faith in Jesus Christ consistently?” This question brings us back to why we exist. It helps us focus on the main thing. This is the start of the discipleship process. If the answer is “nowhere,” then wrestle with finding a solution. Build bridges into your community. Create invitational culture in your church. Present the gospel. Invite people to respond. Follow up and disciple them. Why? Because we believe that knowing Jesus is the best decision anyone can make. We believe that Jesus is the answer for the world today. Jesus has made all the difference in our lives, so we freely talk about that to those around us. Don’t step back from the Great Commission; step up. Prayer-walk around your community. Hand out your pastoral business cards to everyone and let them know you can pray for them any time. Engage your community boldly.
My prayer is that all of our PAOC churches will see people who are far from God find salvation in Jesus Christ through their ministries.