“What the world needs now, is love, sweet love.
That’s the only thing that there’s just too little of.”
What the World Needs Now Is Love, Hal David and Burt Bacharach, 1965
America is stressed to the max. You don’t need me to flesh this out for you; you’re seeing it and experiencing it every day. We are outraged, confused, discouraged, fearful and divided.
The Left fears a Right-wing, totalitarian takeover of the US. The Right fears a Left-wing, totalitarian takeover of the whole world. We’ve always had varying opinions about how the country should be run, but I doubt that we’ve had this level of mistrust since the Civil War.
It would be nice to be able to say that as Christians, we are immune to all this, insulated, inoculated (dirty words here?) and as joyful and hopeful as ever.
But that wouldn’t be true, would it?
My world is the world of pastors and church staffs and church lay leaders and congregations and my world is stressed and discouraged too. Most churches have lost attendees due to the pandemic and everything associated with it. So many people have migrated to different congregations for political and pandemic-related reasons that some observers are calling it “the great re-shuffling.”
We are at our wits end on the subject of how to persuade people – Christians and not-yet-Christians – to venture through our doors on Sunday mornings.
At the risk of being accused of being simplistic, I’m going to offer a partial solution that, I’m convinced, can make a big difference in many congregations.
I don’t mean “irresistible” on the level of “irresistible grace.” But I do mean irresistible in the sense of very appealing.
I’ll make my case with three simple propositions:
(1) God wants every church to offer the welcome of God. Here’s what that means:
We extend the kind of welcome – to all who walk in our doors – that God Himself would extend. What would God Himself say to and do for our attendees, be they members, non-members or unconverted members of the County Health Commission looking to shut us down?
The answer is found in the parable of the prodigal son as found in Luke fifteen. The son takes his inheritance and runs off to a “far country” and lives a life of debauchery until he comes to his senses. He heads for home, but before he can reach his father’s house, dad sees him from a long way off, and filled with compassion, runs to meet him (an outrageous behavior for a Middle Eastern father). Within minutes the son is hugged, kissed, equipped with new sandals, a new robe and a ring that had the efficacy of a credit card. Within hours the serious partying begins.
Of course we can’t literally do all of this in the church foyer but we should want to. I’m serious about this. How this looks will differ in different sizes of churches, different nations, different cultures and different centuries. But somehow, we should be mimicking the compassion, the whole-hearted welcome and the generosity of the prodigal’s father.
There are still churches which you can’t visit without being invited to somebody’s home (or favorite restaurant) for lunch after the service.
I know of a wonderful congregation which walks down the sidewalk to a café after the service – every week – and “does lunch” together. If you’re brand new, you’re encouraged to come and you probably will have your lunch paid for by a member.
I’ll share more on how churches can offer the welcome of God next week.
(2) Giving the welcome of God is simple and inexpensive. It requires no equipment and, in some cases, no line item in the church budget. The smallest church can give the welcome of God. It’s a little more complicated in the larger church, but it can be done.
(3) In our hostile, angry, isolated, lonely world, the welcome of God is more powerful than ever. Where can you walk in and get loved right away? Where can you walk in and instantly find friends, even though your tribal markings are different from those who are already there? Bars are sometimes very friendly, but you’d better be the right tribe for the right bar, or you might be sorry.
When the church is working as it should be – and that involves giving the welcome of God – every tribe and tongue is welcome inside.
This is not a small thing. It’s very powerful and it can make your church irresistible; especially during these dark and difficult days.