The Mission of the Church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Local churches and extension ministries of the Church provide the most significant arenas through which disciple-making occurs. (¶120, The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church)
If you have been to traditional worship at Community, you have probably heard me say this or a shorter phrasing of this. It is an adaptation of the Great Commission that Christ gave his disciples before he ascended into heaven. To make disciples is the mission that Christ has left for us to do, and drives a great deal of the activities and programs we do at Community. These activities and programs (such as bible studies, age-specific programs, and fellowship organizations) are meant to be opportunities for individuals to deepen their relationship with Jesus Christ. Yet, often we separate discipleship and our efforts to reach out to people who are not in a relationship with Jesus. I do not find helping establishing relationship with Christ and deepening relationships with Christ to be different things; because as we are deepening our relationship with Christ, as we are learning to love God and our neighboring completely, that depth of relationship with Christ causes us to share that relationship with others. But the reality is that sharing our faith with others outside the local church is not happening within United Methodism or more specifically and relevantly at Community. Statistically, the average United Methodist will invite someone to worship about once every 37 years. (Please note not all United Methodist will take this long to invite someone or will some do so as frequently as once every 37 years. It is an average.) To put that into perspective, I will turn 28 years old, next month. Now it is not hard to see that mainline (UMC, Episcopal, Presbyterian, Lutheran) congregations have been in decline; however, this decline by itself or the desire for the continuation of a congregation is not enough to motivate people to reach out to new people.
The Reason Why
As far as I have seen the only thing that both motivates congregations to reach out to new people and is effective in reaching those people is a deep and personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Our relationship with Jesus is the reason why we are reaching out in the first place. Someone of us have come to know Christ in more dramatic ways, and people who knew Christ came along side us in our times of great need and they helped us get our lives together. Then there are those of us, I'm in this group, that have been a part of the church my entire life, I was born into a Methodist family, I was baptized as infant, I was intentionally nurtured in and by community of believers who were committed to the promise they made in my baptism, who were seeking to love God and neighbor and who were striving to be like Christ and make disciples. In such an environment, one can't help but to learn about Jesus and come to know Jesus person; but let me be clear it was not one of those things that helped me have a relationship with Jesus it was the compilation of all those factors. So really an intentional community focused on deepening discipleship centered on our relationship with God and others has always been a part of my vision for what the church is or at least should be.
Some of you are probably wondering, "How can we become a community like this?" You may be playing out a chicken and the egg scenario on do we have to be developing disciples or reaching new people, what do we do first? The answer is that we have to do both simultaneously, because these this is not something that is linear but more cyclical. We should be constantly reaching out to new people, and to develop those people into disciple who in turn reach out to new people. Who are these new people? They are the people in your lives that you know that do not already go to church here. Our goal as the Reach New People working group is help you to develop deeper relationship with these people in your life and to share with them over time how following Christ has impacted your life. Recognizing that this will be easier for some than others, we all have a role in sharing with others the good news of what God has done in Jesus Christ. This is not about turn or burn threats that some well meaning Christians make. This is really about proclaiming the liberating and transforming power of the Gospel in our lives and sharing this good news with people in our lives. When something good happens to me, I cannot help but to share the news with someone that I know.
Building Relationship with "New People"
These opportunities to share your faith with others or to invite them to church come through developing relationships with people outside of our congregation. The first steps vary a great deal based upon your answer to the following questions: Do you know many people who are not already Christians? Where are the opportunities in your life to meet non-Christians? Where do you spend a lot of your time, besides home and church? For some of us reaching new people will require that we meet new people, particularly people who are not already Christians. This is why I spend so much time at Starbucks, because it is a place where there are lots of people and many of them are not Christians. I frequent Starbucks in order to intentionally build relationships with the people who are there and I share my life with them and my relationship with Jesus Christ, which is at the center of my life. Now does this mean that many of the people will have become Christians already; no, but I hope that as our relationships deepens and that they will come to know Christ through their relationship with me.
But it cannot just be me, or anyone else who works at Community, if Community UMC is going to reach new people as a part of how we are making disciples of Jesus Christ, then you have to be a part of us reaching new people. So where in your life do spend a lot of time? Who are the people in your life who do not know Jesus? How can you share the good news of the Gospel with them?
Grace and Peace be with You,