Yesterday was a remarkable day at Grace Church. On an August Sunday, two weeks before the start of school, we had attendance that rivaled our average Sunday attendance. There were visitors from out of town as well as newcomers and church shoppers. There were also visitors from other Episcopal churches who joined us before participating in the Capitol Pride march.
After our 8:00 and 10:00 services, we introduced members and visitors to the master planning process on which we are about to embark and invited them to dream about the future of Grace Church, how, as I like to put it, we might become sacred space for our whole community.
While we were talking, people gathered for Capitol Pride. Some of our members joined the parade at its start; others joined after participating in the conversations we were having inside the building. I was struck by the juxtaposition of the two events. We were talking about mission in our neighborhood, while thousands gathered and marched outside. Here’s a photo from the parade (from Fred-Allen Self):
And I thought about something else, the way our building enables and limits our mission. I’m linking below to a couple of blog posts that challenge us to rethink the way we do mission or evangelism. It’s not enough to claim to be welcoming, our to assert our radical hospitality, we have to go out into the community and into the square, talk about our faith and invite people to encounter Jesus Christ with us.
In today’s paper, there were probably dozens of ads for new cars. If you read the paper, did you notice them? It’s doubtful – unless you are in the market for a car. (These days, it’s doubtful you even read a newspaper – but let’s play this out).
If you’re not in the market for a car, it doesn’t matter to you if a dealer is having a sale, promises a rebate, has a radio on-site broadcast, hangs out balloons, says they’re better than everyone else, promises that they will be different and not harass you or make you bargain over the price, or sends you a brochure or push email.
Why? You’re not in the market for a car.
It’s no different with a church. People today are divorced from seeing it as a need in their life, even when they are open to and interested in spiritual things. They no longer tie that to the need to find a particular faith, much less a particular church.
So how do you grow a church from the unchurched?
I’ll assume you know the “pray like mad” part.
Here’s step two:
Crawl underneath the hood of any growing church that is actually growing from the unchurched and you will find that the number one reason newcomers attend is because they were invited by a friend.
Churches grow from the unchurched because their members and attenders talk about it to their unchurched friends. It comes up in their conversations like the mention of a good movie, a favorite restaurant, or a treasured vacation spot.
There is a culture of invitation.
Earlier, Scott Benhase said similar things in A Theology of Attraction:
Our churches ought to be places of pure welcome and grace. We truly ought to be communities of “radical hospitality” to the stranger.
And yet, the theology behind this practice, however right and good, has tended to mask something else that we need to acknowledge and address. For the sake of argument, I would call the theology behind the movement of “radical hospitality” a “Theology of Attraction.”
Such a theology holds that if we’re just open and welcoming enough people will naturally be attracted to us and want to come and join our churches. So, with this theology we declare that all people are welcome and we will offer them “radical hospitality” when they come into our churches.
Instead, he advocates a Theology of Mission:
We need a “Theology of Mission” like the early church had, in which modern day “apostles” (literally “ones who are sent out”) leave the friendly confines of our church buildings and go to where people are. We need to go to where people are because they are not coming to us, no matter how attractive we might be.
September 16 is Back to Church Sunday