A pleasant surprise
June 20, 2011
by Rev. Bill Hillyer, Saving Grace Lutheran Church, Delano

Have you ever wondered how to get your friends or neighbors to come to church with you?

Many people think that their local church congregation needs to add more programs or more paid staff in order to grow. I ask the same questions myself; what would draw people into our church family? What should we be doing? What programs do we need? Actually, the answers are very simple, and quite surprising.

Many church-going Christians mistakenly assume that their friends and neighbors who do not attend church choose not to go, and could care less about anything spiritual. But in a study by the Rainer Group that covered the United States and Canada, researchers found that this is just not the case. In fact, the answers were full of surprises about the unchurched.

According to the research, 96 percent of the unchurched are at least somewhat likely to attend church if they are asked. This means that of the 160 million people in the US who do not attend church, over 153 million would go to church if Christians simply asked them.

Unfortunately, only about 21 percent of churchgoers invite a friend or neighbor to church each year. Have you invited a friend or neighbor to church? Why not invite their children to your congregation’s vacation Bible school or summer church camp (even if you no longer have children in that age group)?

The research also shows that most of the unchurched not only feel guilty about not attending church, they would prefer to go to church with you on a Sunday morning. Many of the unchurched want to take their children to church, but they are afraid to because they are not sure they will fit in with the local church.

The study found that church members need to go out of their way to help visitors feel welcome and needed in church. This means showing them around the church (classrooms, bathrooms, coffee location) and helping them to follow and understand the service style. When you see a visitor in church Sunday morning, greet them, and then introduce them to some of your friends – it will help them feel welcome and valued.

In addition, the research reported that the unchurched have a strong desire to have a real and sincere relationship with Christians. Most of the people who have dropped out of church did so because they had very negative experiences with church members. The researchers in this project noted that, “Most of the unchurched . . . would respond positively to a ‘genuine’ Christian who would spend time in a gentle, non-judgmental relationship. Most of the unchurched can tell . . . a person who really cares.”

Can your friends, neighbors, and co-workers tell there is something different about you? Can they see Christ in your life? Remember to live each day in the joy of Christ – you never know who is watching you.

“So wherever you go, make disciples of all nations: Baptize them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Teach them to do everything I have commanded you. And remember that I am always with you until the end of time.” (Matthew 28:19-20)

In Matthew 28, Jesus urges us to go and tell others about Him. He has given us all the tools we need through our baptism and His Word. The Holy Spirit is anxiously waiting to work through you to bring a new person to Christ, and summer is a great time of year to invite that person that God has laid on your heart.

So, what are you waiting for? Invite someone to church!