Thursday, January 22, 2009

Breaking into the Church

In an article titled “Breaking into the Church” a family described their search for a new church home when they moved to a new community. They visited several large churches. Most had dynamic programs and services, strong youth groups, and many opportunities for service. But they finally settled on, and joined, a small church in their new community. For all practical purposes, this church had nothing to offer. It had a small, struggling youth program. The building was unattractive. The minister was far from dynamic and his sermons were boring. Yet they found themselves very attracted to that small congregation. From their first visit the members of the church took an interest in them. They were invited to several families’ homes. Church families befriended them and mentored their children, helping the family become assimilated into their new community. They all developed several deep friendships with members of that church. A few years later, when a job transfer took them across the country, they immediately sought out a church of the same denomination to join.

Reading this article reminded me of my experience during my college years. While away at college I attended a small church located in the community. It was a church of only about 100 people. In the three and one-half years I attended that church I got to know only 6 families. The only reason I got to know them was because they were families of professors at the university. The remainder of the congregation took no interest in the students who attended. One Sunday I visited another church with a friend. It was also a church of about 100 people. But that first Sunday I met every member of the congregation. The result: I never went back to the former church. Though I had attended there for over three years, I had never joined that church because I was never welcomed. But I soon joined this new church. It was a church that I was allowed to break into. It was while a member of this church that I felt God’s call to go on to seminary.

God wants his church to be in the habit of being broken into. He desires us to welcome others, to love and befriend them. This is the way we can be most attractive to the world. It is one of the best ways of reaching new people for Christ. But it can only happen when every member is open and accepting of others. It only occurs when new people are befriended and made to feel welcomed. It requires our willingness to reach out to others and to love them. But how often do we really do this? How often do we invite someone to join us for coffee or lunch after church? Are we open to others outside of Sunday mornings? It is very easy for us to think that “the church should be doing thus and so…” But we often forget that we each, individually, make up the church. Do we at the same time say “I should be doing thus and so…” Unfortunately, too many times the answer is “no”. But until we honestly welcome others, befriend them and love them, we close ourselves off and might as well lock the doors. Until we actively share our lives with others we will never be broken into. The contrast between the churches mentioned above raises interesting questions. Is my church willing to be broken into? How open am I to involving others in my life? To what extent am I willing to be broken into? The answers may make all the difference in the world.

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