Monday, September 12, 2011

Faith Works 9-17

Faith Works 9-17-11

Jeff Gill


Back to Church Sunday: For You?



Tomorrow, Sept. 18, is "Back to Church Sunday."
You may ask, "Sez who?"
Well, it's fairly unashamedly a promotional campaign by Lifeway Christian Resources, a publishing house and Christian bookstore chain that is a ministry of the Southern Baptist Convention. Their materials are used by a wide variety of evangelical and mainline Protestant churches.
This is obviously a win-win approach, since churches want to invite people to come, and Lifeway knows that if more people come to church, they'll sell more Bibles, books, and other media.
Lifeway is also a ministry, and as their president, Thom Rainer points out that in studies, it appears that only 2% of regularly attending worshipers invite someone to come to their church over a year, and over 80% of unchurched people say they are very to somewhat likely to say "yes" if someone were to invite them.
For those as challenged by math as I am sometimes, Rainer helpfully notes a little further on that this means 98% of committed Christians never invite anyone to church during a year. Ouch.
So whatever your denomination, this is a situation that it's good to have backup for, and the "Back to Church Sunday" effort includes a video you may well have already seen on Facebook.
It includes a delightful list of reasons why people don't go to church, and possible answers, including my favorite pairing: Reason – it's full of hypocrites! Answer from an amiable burly pipefitter – there's always room for one more!
The tagline is simple: Invite someone.
So I'd argue (and suspect Thom Rainer wouldn't dispute) that "Back to Church Sunday" is aimed as much inside the church as it is outside. "Invite someone" is an exhortation not to the unchurched, but to the faithful; to phrase a bit differently, and less diplomatically, "Why in heaven's name aren't you?"
There's the tricky conversation that is far beyond any one Christian resource firm or coaching process. It's tricky, but it's awfully simple. Why aren't people who are members constantly WANTING to invite people to church?
Phrased that way, there are a few obvious possible answers. One is: people I meet wouldn't really like it there. OK, so why do you? Is what you like something no one else likes? Huh.
Or, more dangerously, most people I meet I'm not sure I'd want at my church. Urrrgh. Hopefully it's not that.
The usual suspect is the guilty answer: if I ask, and they don't want to, then it will make it awkward for us at a) work, b) bridge club, c) the bar (huh?), or d) in my neighbor's house. Sort of like in high school, where you want to ask someone out, but until you do, it's not like they've said no, but once you've asked, it can't be taken back.
And that's hard. I truly don't mean to mock. There's worrying about looking like "one of THOSE Christians" at work, for whom the only subject of conversation is why you should go to their church (and there's really not that many of them), and there's the simple fear of rejection, which I think is the larger obstacle for most.
So the simple need, and kudos to Lifeway for helping provide some, is for enough motivation to push within us against that adolescent fear of getting a "no," or even a brush-off, from someone.
This is a morning paper, so let me hope that you might just read this, and have an opportunity before the day is over to invite someone, and bring them back to church for this Sunday, and maybe a bit more.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; tell him your tale at, or follow Knapsack @Twitter.

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