Friday’s Essay - The Key to Growth

19Aug

Below is an essay that I sent to those on the Cove Presbyterian Church e-mailing list. You can find other essays, sermons, devotions, articles, and announcements on The Cove Community blog. You might also want to visit the congregational website (covepresbyterian.org) for more church information.

If you find this essay helpful, please consider sending an offering directly to Cove Presbyterian Church, 3404 Main Street, Weirton, West Virginia or through PayPal.

During the last few weeks, I’ve become convinced that the key to our growth comes down to our willingness to do two things, both of which are possible but require a shift in our perspective. And I think they also need to be done together, because just doing one and neglecting the other will just lead to the same kind of confusion and frustration a lot of us have felt for the last couple of decades or so. And although this awareness may make me the last pig to the trough, it really came as a result to two situations in which I was engaged during the last couple of months.

You see, last Sunday, we finished a six-week sermon series based on Jesus calling his disciples to be fishers of people. Now if you didn’t hear them, you can find them on The Cove Community blog, on the Cove Presbyterian Podbean page and on our website. Anyway, the series focused on how we, as men and women who’ve been called by Jesus, might participate in the calling of others. And although I enjoyed preaching them all, one made a greater impression than the others, and it was the one based on Jesus saying to Andrew, “Come and see.” You see, that’s what we can do, invite our friends and neighbors to come and see Christ and the best way to do that is by entering his body here on earth, namely the church. That’s certainly one way we can fish for people. And it’s something we might actually do, because let’s face it, very few of us will ever feel comfortable sitting next to someone and saying, “Let me tell you about Jesus.” Now that’s one thing that’s been on my mind.

But something else happened that has also made a pretty big impact. You see, we’ve been planning a very important program, one that’s been successful in other places and that’s lacking in Weirton. And to promote it’s kick-off, we did an awful lot of promotional stuff, you know, the sort of things that people will say you need to do for an activity to be successful. For example, we put the announcement in the newspaper. It ran for months in the church bulletin. It was a part of literally thousands of e-mails. And it was posted repeatedly on several social media platforms. We printed and distributed flyers, and we made phone calls. Now we intentionally did all this, and yet, the attendance at the meeting was less then we’d hoped. In other words, we did everything the book on how to promote an event on a budget says to do, and in spite of time, energy and magnificent snacks, it wasn’t well attended. And that’s the second thing that sort of got me thinking.

And maybe it was at the conjunction of these two situations that I started to realize that not only was Field of Dreams not quite right, “build it and they will come,” but that there were two things that we could and should do if we’re serious about future events. But more than that, it may be an important part of any church growth we want to see in the future. I’ll tell you, I think these two actions may just be the key, but like I said a little earlier, they aren’t an “either/or.” They both have to be done together for them to work.

You see, first, if we’re serious about sharing Jesus Christ through what this church does and is doing, I don’t think there a more effective way to do that than one person asking someone else to “come and see.” Without saying the other stuff is unimportant, a personal invitation is better than ads and articles, promotions and publications. For example, if we want people to come to church, we need to invite them to come with us to church. Of course, to do that, we’ve got to be willing to come ourselves, because if I invite someone to come to a place that’s suppose to be special to me, but I choose not to go myself, I doubt that the person invited will come, much less come back. Now, at one time, congregations did this kind of thing when they had “Invite a Friend” Sundays, but I’ve got to tell you, this is something we can do all the time, especially if we believe that the Holy Spirit is present and active within the Body of Christ and that lives can and do change when they hear the Word of God read and proclaimed. Of course, I recognize that not everybody feels able or is willing to do this kind of thing. For a number of different reasons, a person may not feel comfortable asking a friend or neighbor to come and see. I’ve even been told  about some leaders of our congregation saying to others that they would never encourage anybody to come to this church. Now, personally, I find that sad on a lot of levels. But if that’s the way some folks might feel, I encourage them to do one of three things. I mean, they can try to change their attitude, maybe by forgiving and forgetting some hurt from the past. Or they can decide to keep that feeling to themselves for the sake of the congregation they serve. Or if for whatever reason they won’t forgive or can’t keep quiet, they might consider resigning their office here and going to a church where they feel excited to attend and promote. As sad as it is to say good-bye, this may be best for both the person and the congregation. You see, when you get right down to it, the best way to encourage attendance is by inviting friends and neighbors to come and see. That’s one thing we can all do, but that’s not all.

Second, we can work together to build the kind of church where a person might see Jesus. Now before I go any farther, let me be clear about this; I believe faith is the result of work done by the Holy Spirit. Still we can work on making Cove a place where the Spirit is visible and appears active. And I think that involves focusing on both content and atmosphere. I mean, to be a place that bears effective witness, we need to be grounded on the love of God and the incarnation of Jesus Christ. And we also need to challenge folks to trust him and love others. Now, that has to be our message, and the people who come should be able to hear it in every song we sing, every prayer we offer and every sermon we present. This must be the content our message. But they should also feel it in our general atmosphere. Now I recognize that not everyone believes that worship should be enjoyable; some would prefer a more solemn and serious approach to God. But even solemn and serious can also reflect joy. And frankly, gathering together as brothers and sisters in Christ should make us happy. In other words, if we want to be a part of a community where people can come and see Jesus, we probably need to create the most positive atmosphere possible, something that should be easy since we are offering praise and thanks to one whose love is eternal. You see, we could invite all kinds of people to come with us, but if their experience is unpleasant and unappealing, we’ve done nothing for God’s kingdom. And becoming the kind of place that radiates Jesus, that’s the second thing we can do.

Of course, as it is with so many things, the decision about what we do is still up to us. And without saying that promotions and advertising are ineffective, I still believe the best way to encourage people to come is to invite them. And so, as we approach Sunday, after deciding that worshiping God is a high priority; therefore, we’ll be here; let’s invite one person to come and let’s dedicate ourselves to making this the kind of place where they’ll see Jesus. And I believe that will be the key to future growth.
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