Good morning, class! I assume you’ve all passed Church Growth 101, where you learned the secret to church growth, yes? In case you need a refresher, by all means, please read The Secret to Church Growth to review. But my guess is that most of you not only agree that church growth starts with the family unit, you also practice that in your own home. That is wonderful. But it can’t stop there.
Welcome to Church Growth 102. And before you get defensive about my earlier statement, let me explain. Yes, raising your children to know their Savior and to be active, mature Christians is far and away the most important task God has given you. All else fails in comparison, because, you see, their eternal souls are at stake. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what kind of job you have, how much money you make, what college you went to, etc. When you die none of that will matter in the least. But it WILL matter what you believe about Jesus and what your kids believe. Keep the eternal perspective. But again, don’t let it stop with your family. Don’t get complacent and think, Gee, I’m doing a pretty good job raising my kids to go to church and Sunday School. I’m teaching them the Bible and the catechism. I’m fulfilling my most important vocation. Way to go, me! Trust me, the devil will tempt you to think along these lines. He doesn’t want the Good News to spread beyond your household. He’ll try to seduce you into thinking that’s all you need to worry about for the sake of the Gospel. And he’s completely wrong.
In Church Growth 101 I said I believed 80% of my confirmation class was no longer attending church. What about those souls? What about you? Where are your classmates now? Probably not all sitting next to you in church on any given Sunday. What about the C and E people? (That’s Christmas and Easter church attenders.) What of those who have fallen away and don’t seem to care? Here’s a humble suggestion- invite them back. Personally. Call them up and say, “Hey, I was thinking about you today. I haven’t seen you in a while. I hope everything’s okay. Would you like to come to church with me this week and go out for brunch afterward?” Walk over to your neighbor’s house with some muffins and extend the same invitation. Stop by the gas station where a former classmate works and do likewise. Ask them if they’d like to attend a weekday Bible class with you. Ask them how you can pray for them. Listen to them if they open up about anything. Some people have left the church because of a petty squabble or complaint. That’s a sad but true fact. Regardless of what you think of their excuse, at least hear them out and keep negative thoughts to yourself. You won’t “win back” your neighbor by chastising them. If they tell you something petty, just say, “I’m sorry to hear that. I’d still love to have you back in church. Would you be willing to give it another shot?” Then go home and pray fervently that the Holy Spirit would be working mightily in their heart to erase any such petty obstacles. If you do see someone at church who hasn’t been there in a while, make them feel welcome. Don’t roll your eyes and whisper about them to another member. That won’t help at all. Give them a hug and tell them you’ve missed them.
These suggestions are not earth-shattering, class. They’re very practical, even boring, perhaps. But reaching out takes personal involvement, and yes, even a slight personal risk at times. It’s nerve-racking to invite someone to church. What if they say no? What if they snap at you for “preaching” to them? That’s a possibility. But don’t let that stop you. You’re acting in Christian love because you care about their souls. And these principles don’t need to stop with lapsed Christians, either. Extend them to those you know who never went to church to begin with. The neighbor who doesn’t know what she believes, the former high school classmate who sleeps off hangovers on weekends, the co-worker who golfs on Sunday mornings- these are all people for whom Christ died as well. Invite them. Just ask. If you know a family who doesn’t go to church, kids are a great ice-breaker. Ask them if their children would like to come to Sunday school and church with your kids. If they agree to this, wait a few weeks to establish a pattern and then ask if the parents would like to come as well. If it’s a family who truly knows nothing about the Bible, offer to have Saturday play dates with their kids where you include a Bible lesson time after they play. Maybe even offer to have the parents sit in on that before they take their kids home. Step out of your comfort zone and ask.
Before I excuse you, please read with me the words of hymn 826 (Hark, the Voice of Jesus Crying) from Lutheran Service Book, verse 4:Let none hear you idly saying, “There is nothing I can do,” While the multitudes are dying And the Master calls for you. Take the task He gives you gladly, Let His work your pleasure be; Answer quickly when He calleth, “Here am I, send me, send me.
Okay, class, you have your assignment. And it’s not from me, either. It’s from the Master. So go. Extend an invitation today. And tomorrow. The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Let’s go work those fields. Class dismissed.