The doors swings open to the foyer area of your local church. There are posters for upcoming events, freshly brewing coffee, kids running here and there, and folks donning name tags with bulletins in hand.
"Have you met Rich?," says one greeter to a long time church member.
"Hi, I am John, pleased to meet you, Rich. Do you live nearby?"
"Yes, I have been in town most of my life," Rich says.
"How did you find out about our church today," says that greeter (knowing that the pastor is going to want to know if the new web site is worth the hundreds paid.).
Rich, replies, "I have driven by it a thousand times. I remember when this building was a factory, and then a sandwich shop and deli; since gone out of business."
Hoping that Rich is in good hands with the greeter, John gestures that he needs to get going, "nice to meet you." he says. Extending a quick handshake, as he heads for the door.
The greeter replies to both, "I hope to see you next week. Rich it was nice to meet you."
We have heard, or been a part of, this conversation many times. We've been to a new church, or at least we've been a guest somewhere. I know I have a few hundred times. On some occasions I have been greeted as a visitor, other times a pastor, and other times a Christian alien... and occasionally folks have tried to get me saved before I got to a seat. I don't think that I have ever been declined a bulletin, some Wal*Mart type of greeting or directions to the bathroom.
I find it interesting who is on the "front lines" making sure the new folks know were to go, what to expect, and in some cases, how to act. On the surface, one might think this is an easy job-- just be nice and point people in some direction that seems fitting. I once wrote a short treatise on how to be a church greeter. I gleaned some of it at a Vineyard leadership conference, but as I meditated on "love one another as I have loved you," I began to get what I feel is God's vision for gathering folks.
It started with folks placed strategically in the parking lot near the visitor only parking signs, at all the doors, near the restrooms, in kids church and in the sanctuary. (You might think that is a little excessive, having religious watchdogs placed about the building, but I don't.) My teaching ended with the mandate (fruit) of the greeter ministry to end up making sure the new comer had a friend by the time they left that day. I realize you can't force friendship, but you sure can make yourself available to serve while other doors of relationship open up for the mark, as we used to call them.
I firmly believe that serving others is not doing what we are good at when we have time. It is dropping everything to make someone feel loved now! Imagine how many church-hoppers might have stayed where they were, had some one pursued them, and persevered with them? By the way, that is the pastoral ministry... you may remember that verse, "leave the ninety-nine for the one?" Just imagine how much ministry would have happened if someone felt it was their responsibility that a new person became connected to a church body long term? Not just to make someone feel welcome, but to seek God for a way to the heart of the visitor. Now that is love is action.
Loving relationship needs to be the focus of Christianity. Everything else a church does should support relationship. Here is how I know. When Jesus was on the cross, there were few to be found as he suffered a painful and humiliating death as the King of the Jews. What do you think would have happened if the throngs that came for the miracles, healing, and free fish and bread meal were there. History would have been different. But don't you think that is a little bit how it is these days too? My point is this, real love never fails, and it is committed, sacrificial and nurturing... and it rolls up it's sleeves to do the work of the ministry of reconciliation while looking beyond the natural.
Here is a little test:
When was the last time you dropped everything for someone in the church that you didn't know?
When was the last time you had someone on your heart, that wasn't in your circle of friends, and made contact with them?
When was the last time some one took you along for the ride just to get to know you better?
You see where I am going. Ask yourself this, if some person in church had done that for me, how would my view of the church be different?
Let me replay that opening dialogue again; this time making it more realistic in terms of Biblical love.
"Have you met Rich?," says that greeter to a long time church member. "Hi, I am John, pleased to meet you, Rich. Most folks don't show up here by accident, is there anything we can specifically do to try and meet your needs? Anything we can pray for?"
"Well, actually I just haven't connected with God-- or people since my divorce a few years ago. " Rich says. Let me translate that: What I really need is a friend, and a way to restore my battered faith in God and the church. CAN YOU HELP ME PLEASE?!?!
"It might not be a feast, but why don't you come and have dinner with us tonight. My wife and I had planned to catch a movie, but we can go any time." says that greeter. If that seems too formal for you, how about a cup of coffee?
I often wonder why some churches grow, and others fail after a period of time. I also wonder why we don't effectively reach the lost. You know, if you do the math-- if every Christian would simply bring two nonbelievers to faith, and those two people did the same, the world would be saved in something like 14 years! That is two neighbors or coworkers, or folks we meet in the rest room at church. Did you know that people are out there searching for God, and the plan is that they might find Him through you (us)? And if we long-time Christians could actually teach someone else to get their two, we'd be off to a good start!
Certainly good leadership and vision are key to manging this type of effort. However; I feel it is more important for us to just reach out, go the extra mile and be a little bit more concerned about our rewards in Heaven, then we'd be on our way to revival! We are called to preach the Good news, that is not the Christmas or Easter story, but the power of God to save us, heal us, and mobilize us for Kingdom purposes. Preaching must have power, or we become like every other religion, a quaint philosophy that influences our worldview.
I remember about eight years ago, I was doing a young adults group and the power of God had been amazing week after week-- I mean just over the top amazing! Our little meeting of misfits, kids that felt rejected and unwanted by the church, came at first for fellowship. They wanted to date, listen to music and lived like a lot of teens and young adults. We had the pot smokers, a couple of kids that had out of wedlock children, one gal that was bi-sexual and the run of the mill party types. All had been to church, and all had tried to get a hold of Jesus. All had sat in their seats during the Sunday sermon since they were toddlers, stood for Sunday worship, and went up for prayer after. They really tried to engage, but they just couldn't.
With little to do at that time in my life, a couple from the church offered me their home for meetings. I had meet their son, a few months earlier in front of the church while he was smoking a cigarette. I just started to talk to him one Sunday, and the power of God showed up. He let me pray for him, and God delivered him from cigarettes right there on the spot. We sort of became friends and I used to visit him at his home every once in a while. He was having a sexual relationship with another gal. We used to talk about that--what he thought, what God thought... one day the two of them were there and I just asked if I could pray for them as a couple. I didn't really say much, the power came and God convicted her first, and then him. They were both there crying on floor. Not too long after, they decided to get married and they are still today.
On another occasion his brother was there and he and I had a similar encounter. God was after him to stop drinking and smoking pot. But I didn't say anything about that. I just called him from time to time on his cell phone-- just to ask how he was doing. He later confessed that every time I called, every time, he was about to open a beer or light a joint. Today he is serving God full-time with his new wife. I was honored to be at their wedding.
For the meeting format, I just asked the kids to be nice to each other, spend a few minutes in prayer before starting, listen to a few worship tunes and a short (5-8 minute) teaching, then we'd have pizza and listen to Christian rock and talk. The kids started to bring their friends to experience the power of God. Most of these new kids had never been to church in their lives. It was really different for them. We went from a weekly meeting to five or six a week. I was amazed at how excited they were about Jesus. Some of their parents came to the meetings and God healed a few of them too. One woman had migraines so bad that she was bedridden a few times a week and in the ER nearly once a month. This went on for many years she told me. God healed her. She went nearly a year without a single headache the last I heard.
In our meetings, I let the kids teach, prophesy, pray for the sick and minster to each other. Of course I kept a close eye them, but they did it. It was exciting to see some one delivered from some sinful behavior, and then want to serve God. They used to pray that God would break the power of the sins listed in Galatians 5:21, and then pray that God would increase the fruit of the spirit in 5:22. Wow!
That is how these meetings grew for nearly two years. (I turned it over the local church, but that is another story.)
At one meeting in particular, the host couple had a teenage foster child staying for the weekend. The kids in the group, about 20 of them started to file in, giving hugs and chatting it up. They kind of ignored her (she seemed happy about that), but I was pretty certain that something was up and I was anxious to start the meeting. So, I began by putting on a CD very loud, and some of the kids came into worship in the den where we held the meetings. After just two songs, I turned if off. I then asked the kids to go around and share how they knew God was real. I kept an eye on the new girl as they took turns talking about how they met God, felt God, and experienced God. It was five or six kids into the discussion when I looked across the circle and saw she was crying. I could see her listening intently as tears slid down her cheeks. As one of the kids finished a tearful testimony about being abused, I asked her if she wanted to know Jesus too? Of course she blurted out "YES!" She started sobbing so hard we couldn't even get her to say a simple sinners prayer. (How religious of me to confirm the obvious!) The kids prayed for her by laying on of hands, and she suddenly was out in the Spirit for about 30 minutes. She finally came around (speaking in tongues! (I always think this is awesome when the one doing it has never heard anyone else do it!)) and we made sure that she had a Bible and did our best to let her know what this was all about. Due to privacy laws, I have never seen her since.
Today I simply challenge you to ask God for two souls this next calendar year. To help you be friend to a few folks that would otherwise never really experience Jesus. Work up a heartfelt testimony of what God has really done. Then hang out by the restroom and wait for the right moment.
---- A friend sent me thie video, and I think it captures the point of this blog perfectly. -----