The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, “Follow me.” Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked. “Come and see,” said Philip. (John 1: 43-44,46)
Come and See
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Philip faced a companion whose resistance to Jesus is not unlike what many of Christians today face when they talk about Christianity with their secular friends. “I’m spiritual, but not religious,” they say. And often they add a story about or a perception they have of churches – it is judgmental and negative, homophobic, against other religions, dominated by people who take the Bible literally or is a religion with a political agenda. Others may have tried church and found it boring, that it failed to give purpose to their lives or that it didn’t make a difference in the world.
All of these negatives make the idea of inviting someone to church daunting. So most of us avoid inviting anyone. And yet, churches today will not grow if we don’t invite people to join us. People moving into town, seeking community or wanting to make a difference will no longer automatically turn to the church. In fact, 40% of adults today seldom or never attend church. If we look at younger adults, that number increases to 50%.
We live in a world where people live highly independent and very busy lives. We don’t know our neighbors. We are over-worked, over-scheduled and many of us don’t have social lives outside of Facebook. If we do socialize, we tend to keep religion out of the conversation. So even if we felt inclined to invite someone to church, we often don’t know who we might invite or feel we have a relationship that gives us the right to invite them to church.
Just encouraging ourselves and each other to invite people to church isn’t going to work. We need to be intentional, provide support to each other and, perhaps most importantly, do it together! “Come and See” is a way for your congregation to plan for and do something to help your church grow. It is an opportunity for you to do what Philip did for his friend, Nathanael—invite someone you know to just to come and see. No pressure to join. No guilt trip. Just a simple invitation to check out your church, to experience something that is important to you.
Those who have tried this process of invitation report that about half of the households in their church will participate, about 2/3 of those invited will attend and half of those will attend again and indicate an interest in joining the church. So if you have a congregation with 60 households, about 30 of those will invite someone, 20 of those invited will attend and 10 of those visitors will begin attending your church. Whether they will stay depends on many things, but even if only half of those return visitors become full participants, that’s five new households or about a 10% annual growth rate—something most churches would be excited about!
Church growth won’t just happen. It is something we all have to work together on finding ways to invite and incorporate new members into our churches. We need to do that, not because we need more “butts in the pew” but because it is what Jesus commanded us to do.
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” (Matthew 28:19). Church is not just about our gathering to worship, learn and enjoy, but also what we receive from our time there. Church is the gathered community, empowered to go forth and tell the story of Jesus, to go forth and invite others to come and see.
Go and Be
There is another side to evangelism besides inviting people to visit your church—it is YOU going to be where people are. In other words, taking the church to the people instead of bringing people to the church! While some of your friends will accept an invitation to church, being with people where they are is often a more effective witness. Many people today, especially younger people, want to make a difference. They aren’t interested in just attending a worship service—at least initially. They want to do something. They want to help people in need, change the world, work on an issue they care deeply about.
So we need to be where they are and join in what they are doing. A cadre of your church’s members showing up at a community event with T-shirts identifying your church is one way to be visible in the community. But so is a lone individual who is faithful in being present and engaged in some activity that is making a difference in your community.
God is already at work out there—we just need to go forth into the world and see where God is active. And then be there. Be engaged and involved. And be ready to bear witness to the faith that is in you.
Joining in outreach, advocacy and social justice efforts underway in our communities gets us out of our small circle of church people and into a wider network of people. Working together enables us to do more than we can do with the same group of people who are known to be our core “workers.” It also enables us to build relationships with people we otherwise might never even meet. If we want to expand our horizons, reach new populations, learn about and from people who are not part of our congregation, we need to get out into the community.
So go and be part of God’s work in the world. Go and be part of making a difference. Go and be part of changing the world. Go and be a Christ-bearer: go and be prepared to meet the Christ in the people you encounter. Go and be. Encounter Jesus in your community, who is present and alive in the world around you, and who invites you to come and see.
Go and be. Come and see. Come and see. Go and be.
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