I got an email recently from someone who wanted to know how they could convince their friends to come to church. It’s a question I get a lot and I think it is really stressful for people. I mean… we are supposed to get people in church right? My answer … Don’t try. (Before you go all Church Lady on me… Here is my answer in full…)
THE QUESTION: Hey Jason – What can we do to bring more people to Eastside? One time I was able to get a friend to come with me… but only once. I need ideas on how to get him and others to come to church… any ideas?
MY RESPONSE: Hey Man – To answer your question as to how to get people to come with you to church… Don’t try.
Don’t try to get them to come to church… I know that sounds crazy for a pastor to tell you that – so let me explain what I mean. Think about a scenario for a minute that doesn’t have anything to do with church… Let’s say you have a friend but he isn’t somebody you do things with on a regular basis. You know each other, you work together, maybe you even occasionally grab lunch or coffee. One day out of the blue – your friend says – Hey Man… I am going to an insurance seminar Friday night… Will you go with me? Now depending on how quick you are on your feet – you are praying and hoping that you can give an excuse right then to not have to go… Uhhhhm – man I am so sorry – I have a thing Friday night and I’m sorry I can’t go… maybe next time though ok? You said no – even though he tried to get you to go to a fun filled evening at an insurance seminar! What???? But he tried!!!
Now take that same scenario and think about it a little differently. Let’s say that you and this friend begin to really grow a deeper friendship together. You meet regularly to hang out, you talk about your families together, you have seen him show up time and time again for stuff going on in your life – moving furniture, helping fix your car, sitting around the fire pit in the back yard smoking a stogie, listening to you talk about your problems… you know just being there consistently and having a good time hanging out … Now he comes to you and he asks you the same question… Can you go to an insurance seminar with me this Friday night? And we can hang out after… Let’s be honest… the seminar probably still doesn’t sound all that appealing – but hanging out with your friend does and realizing that he is there for you when you need him makes going to that seminar all the more tolerable. Plus… you will be hanging out together.
It’s the same thing with us and church. Many of our friends think of church as an insurance seminar. (Again – let’s be honest… Haven’t we all been to churches that were just about as interesting as a seminar discussing the intricacies, nuances and differences of term vs whole life insurance?) They may hate the idea of going but if we have invested in them over time, showing them we are in for the long haul in a true friendship and we make it a personal invitation not just for church but for community – they are way more likely to be willing to do it. Throw in an Old Timer’s Breakfast at Cracker Barrel and you’ll have them hooked! Then over a very short time – they realize this isn’t the church they grew up in or that they have imagined in their minds… and that you aren’t just a passing acquaintance but a life long friend.
The truth is – we can advertise 100 different ways… we can post it all day long on Facebook… we can stand on street corners with signs – but until people feel a community connection they are very unwilling to jump in.
As Christians – I think we have a tendency to feel that if we don’t successfully invite every single person we know and get them into church we are failing. You may know hundreds of people but it’s important to remember though – that Jesus spent the majority of his 3 short years in ministry dealing on a daily basis with 12 guys. He was with them day and night. He spoke to the masses but he engaged with a dozen. And He was Jesus. God in flesh. Why are we so convinced we should be able to do more than Jesus?!?
If we were all meaningfully engaged with a handful of people and made a difference in their lives and spent our time and energy loving the lost and providing for the sick and hurting – this world would be changed and our “church buildings” would be busting at the seams… Not because we tried to get more people into church but because we were really, truly following Jesus’ command in Matthew 22:37-40.
So the simple answer? Don’t try. Just love.