Today is Trinity Sunday. It’s also the 13th week of worshiping from home. By now we’ve all gotten a little more comfortable with this model of worshipping and we’ve discovered we can “go to church” any time of day or night that works for us all week long. Gotta love technology. Thank you Joani for making this all happen.
It’s also been a week when we’ve continued to live with and survive the corona virus that has now killed more than 370 thousand people world-wide, over 100,000 of those people lived in our own country.
It’s also been a week when we have nationally again grappled with racial injustices in our country and thousands of Americans in cities all across the country have said, “ENOUGH.” If you have not read my comments on this matter please click to read the blog post I wrote here on Emmanuel Voices, Honoring George Floyd.
We also recognize today and appreciate all of those who have participated and taught in our Sunday School program as well as God & Donuts. A special thanks to Elise Flick for heading up this charge for our parish. Thank you Elise and all of our teachers and ministers. Come to our virtual coffee hour when we can celebrate you.
Evangelism for Dummies (me included!)
What now seems like a hundred years ago, and was really only 40 years ago, so I actually could begin by saying, “Nearly a half century ago …” I was in college.
I [also] worked at Giant Food grocery store in large part because my father was a store manager and Giant relied heavily, in those days, on nepotism.
Of the seven of us kids, six of us worked at Giant, all in different stores, because Giant also believed it wasn’t smart to have family members working in the same store. That wasn’t a problem for the six of us (plus Dad) who worked at Giant, there were, in those days, Giants all over northern Virginia.
I worked at Giant because of their flexible hours, incredible benefits, and extremely competitive salary. I I lived at home, went to school all day at George Mason University and closed the store at night. As a young college aged kid, not living away at a college, I yearned for some of the college-life I perceived my friends were experiencing while living away at college.
As spring break was approaching one year my local college friends and I decided we would all go to Daytona Beach, Florida, and while enjoying the sun, waves, sand and sights, we would also participate in a program that promoted beach evangelism. Essentially we would spend our time on the beach by day, participate in fun gatherings with other Christian college kids by night where we were taught how to keep our eyes open for other unsuspecting kids on the beach who looked like they might be open to hearing a little about our own relationship with Christ and if those unsuspecting students were interested in knowing more about Jesus then we had some handy material we could provide for them – materials that would tell them how to be saved and answer all of their biggest life questions.
Suffice it to say, I didn’t last long in that program. I quickly separated myself from that group and spent the rest of my spring break really enjoying the sun, waves, sand and sights. That particular model of evangelism was simply not a good fit for me and now at nearly 60 years of age I try to be gentle in judging my much younger self.
Here’s the part that never worked for me. The model was too heavy handed. For me. I felt like I was being asked to be a door-to-door salesman. I don’t know about all of you, but I don’t love it when a stranger knocks on my door and wants to sell me something. The whole scene is usually just awkward, sort of failed from the beginning. I wouldn’t make it as a member of a church where it is expected that members will go door-to-door knocking on homes in the hopes of finding out if the people in those houses would like to come to that particular church.
There are many ways to witness to Christ – to spread the faith – to bring new believers into the church.
One of the most powerful witnesses we can make is simply to invite friends to come to church with us. Some will accept and some won’t. But we can pray for them and invite them. Then we will have done our part. Let God take it from there.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus said:
“Go, and MAKE DISCIPLES of all nations, BAPTIZING them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, TEACHING them to observe all things that I commanded you.”(Matthew 28:19-20a)
Herb Miller of Lubbock, Texas did extensive research to determine how churches grow:
• His most significant finding was that churches grow, in large measure, because church members invited friends to come to church with them.
• He found, not surprisingly, that people are more likely to visit a church if invited by a friend or neighbor than if invited by the pastor.
• Listen carefully now. Miller found that between 70 and 90 percent of the people who join any church come through the influence of a friend or relative.
And he found that the best way to get people to come back a second time was for a layperson to make a short visit to the new visitor’s home within 36 hours – in other words, not later than Monday evening. It doesn’t work for the pastor to make that visit. It works only if a layperson does it. Miller found that, if a layperson made a short visit to the new person’s home within 36 hours, 85 percent would come back to church again – and many of those would ultimately join the church.
So how do we do all of that in Covid-19 times? How do we do that without a building? Well, if you are listening to this homily you are doing it right now with Emmanuel at Home. We are still praying, singing and gathering for coffee hour. Emmanuel at Home is sent out every Saturday at noon. So, you can worship anytime and anywhere. Consider forwarding it to a friend or family member. Several parishioners have told me they have done this.
Then circle back on Monday with a friendly phone call. Check in and see how they are doing. You can ask if they would like to be added to our mailing list so they can receive it directly each Saturday. And don’t forget to invite them to Zoom Coffee Hour – the most fun part of the service – where we gather live – in our “virtual parish hall.”
While we, of course, miss worshiping in the sanctuary, church has always been more than a building. Besides worship, we are still doing all kinds of things – just differently. Via Zoom Bible Study still meets noon on Tuesdays. Via Zoom Ryan organized an awesome hymn sing and there is another one coming up on June 21. Via Zoom the Twenties & Thirties gather for happy hour. God & Donuts continues to meet via Zoom. Ross Kane just led “Theology on Our Feet” last week. Consider inviting a friend or neighbor to attend one of these.
“Go, and MAKE DISCIPLES of all nations, BAPTIZING them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, TEACHING them to observe all things that I commanded you.”
We call that the Great Commission. It’s the mission of the church to go – to make disciples – to baptize – and to teach people to obey Jesus. The Great Commission has four imperatives:
(2) Make disciples.
(4) Teach – specifically, teach people to obey Jesus’ commandments.
That isn’t just the CHURCH’S job – it’s MY job – and it’s YOUR job too. Each of us has a different set of friends and neighbors and co-workers – and Jesus calls each of us to go – to make disciples – to baptize – and to teach.
You might be thinking, “Well, that might work somewhere, but it won’t work here.” But it can work here. Churches that emphasize inviting your friends to church grow – and churches that don’t emphasize those things shrink. It’s that simple.
These days Christians tend to be skittish about this sort of thing. The reason we’re skittish about evangelism is that we think of evangelism, as I just shared, as door-to-door calling and hard selling. Most of us have had people knock on our door or call us on the phone to sell us something – whether the something is magazines or Jesus – and we don’t like it. We don’t like to be on either end of a hard sell. We don’t want to be the person DOING the calling and we don’t want to be the person BEING CALLED.
But Jesus didn’t tell us to do cold calling. He didn’t tell us to do hard selling. He said, to be exact: love God, love others.
If you’re happy in your church, again, even during COVID-19 times, then please invite others to join you. It’s not rocket science. It’s simple. We don’t have to make this harder than it is.
If there are a hundred and fifty people listening to this message today, then there are a hundred and fifty different ways to do what Jesus told us to do. We don’t each one have to do the same thing. But each of us needs to do whatever IS our part.
COVID-19 certainly causes challenges, but we can still text, call or email friends … or simply listen during a conversation and if you sense you have found the right time to mention your church, please do so. I think you’ll find once you do it the first time, the second time is easier and the third time even easier than the second. Please don’t be too afraid … consider stepping out of your comfort zone. The worse thing that can happen is people will learn that you’re a part of a church and you invited them to join you. The best thing that can happen is people will know you care about them. How wonderful is that?
Each of us has our own circle of friends. Each of us has a friend or a neighbor or a co-worker who is unknown to any other member of this congregation. Once we leave this church building, we move in our own circles. We interact with different people. We each have opportunities to witness for Christ that no one else has. That’s why it’s important for each of us to do his or her part.How can we do that? How can we do our part?
Love God! Love your neighbor! Jesus said that those two commandments summarize everything that we need to know.
If we love God, our lives will begin to take on a sheen of holiness that people will find attractive – not arrogant holiness – not “better than thou” holiness – but an authentic Godliness that will contrast attractively with the ungodliness that people have to deal with every day.
You know people like that – Godly people – people who seem to be rooted – people who seem to be grounded – people who have respect for themselves and respect for others – people whose caring is genuine. When we see people who love God, there is something about their lives that attracts us to them. The Good News is that we can be like that – we can be Godly people – and, if we are, we will draw people to Christ.
Love God! Love your neighbor! If we love our neighbor and our friends and our co-workers – they will sense that and be drawn to us. The door will be open for us to ask how they are doing – to show them a kindness – to walk with them through difficult times – to share our faith with them – to invite them to come worship with us — be it Emmanuel at Home or back under the roof on Russell Road.
One of the reasons that evangelism has become a dirty word in the minds of so many people is that Christians have too often gone about evangelism without loving the person to whom they are trying to witness.
The first step in being winsome evangelists – attractive evangelists – effective evangelists – is to make sure that our hearts are in the right place – to make sure that we love God and that we love our neighbor – and that our love is the motive behind our actions.
The next step is to live lives steeped in prayer. On our own, we have no power. On our own, we cannot find the right words. On our own, we are doomed to fail.
But the Good News is that, as Christians, we are not on our own. We can ask God for help – for grace. We can pray for friends and neighbors – pray for them by name. We can ask God to bless them.
If we will do that, God will bless them – and He will very often choose to do that through our witness – through our love. And when that happens, we will find that we have given a blessing – and that we have received a blessing too. That’s what we mean by evangelism – the giving and the receiving of blessings. Let us live our lives in such a way that we spend our days giving and receiving blessings.
Let me close with this story. One day a man was talking to the administrator of his daughter’s preschool. In conversation with each other, the administrator invited the student’s father to consider bringing his family to her church. The family came. Attended. Got involved. That man, the father of that little girl is now our senior warden, Tom Craig. The preschool administrator? Meredith Wade.
It’s only as hard or as easy as we want to make it.
Peace friends, chuck.
The Rev. Joani Peacock, Editor for Emmanuel Voices: A Parish Blog