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Attracting and Connecting Visitors
By Debi Williams Nixon, Adam Hamilton
Abingdon PressCopyright © 2009 Abingdon Press
All rights reserved.
Three Important Questions
I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent. —Luke 4:43
One summer I watched my teenage daughter and a few of her friends set out to catch fish from the dock of our lake house. They gathered a few fishing poles, loaded into the paddleboat, and headed out about thirty-five feet from the dock. After about an hour of casting and reeling in nothing, they returned frustrated, discouraged, and declared that fishing was "a waste of time and boring." When I asked what kind of bait they were using, they responded that they didn't have any bait. They thought the fish would just bite on the hook. I probed further and asked what kind of fish they had hoped to catch. The response was one of puzzlement. What do you mean "What kind of fish? Fish, of course." They had simply set out to catch "fish" without clarity of purpose, knowledge of the environment, or understanding of what might be needed to actually catch fish.
Sometimes the church's biggest hindrance to evangelism is a lack of clarity of purpose, knowledge of the community and needs of the people, and an understanding of what might be needed to reach them. As the leader, you must cast a clear vision for the calling and purpose for which God has called your church. Jesus was clear about his purpose. He was resolute on doing what his Father had called him to do. Even at the young age of twelve, he was clear that he was to be about his Father's business. He said to them, "Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?" (Luke 2:49). Jesus stayed focused on his purpose throughout his ministry as seen in Luke 4:42-43. At the beginning of his ministry, we read in Scripture of crowds approaching him while in Galilee asking him to stay. But to them he stated clearly his purpose, "I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other cities also; for I was sent for this purpose" (Luke 4:43). Even as he was on his way to Jerusalem approaching the cross, Scripture tells us he knew exactly what he had to do. "As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem" (Luke 9:51, TNIV). Growing churches are clear on their purpose and resolutely set out to work with God to accomplish that purpose.
To have a clear purpose as a church means you know why you exist. The purpose at our church is clearly understood by everyone in our congregation and we all agree upon it. Our purpose statement defines everything we do: To build a Christian community where nonreligious and nominally-religious people are becoming deeply committed Christians. Every person in leadership, and we hope, most of our members, can recite this purpose statement from memory. Our purpose statement is written in twelve-inch letters in our narthex so that all who enter or leave our building are reminded of why we exist. Visually, we have four tapestries that hang behind the chancel in our sanctuary. Each tapestry illustrates a scene from Jesus' life and ministry: his birth (Luke 2:1-20), his forgiveness of a sinful woman (Luke 7:36-50), his ministry to a tax collector (Luke 19:1-10), and his resurrection (Luke 24:1-9). The scenes show how Jesus reached out in love, offering forgiveness and salvation to the people society had abandoned, ostracized, or ignored—the least, the last, and the lost. The tapestries serve as a visual reminder of our purpose, to reach out to the non and nominally religious in our community.
After we had established a clear purpose, we had some more work to do. Before we made the phone calls inviting people to our first worship service, we needed to answer some key questions, the answers to which would drive everything else we did and help us live out our purpose statement. Our pastor knew it was his responsibility to cast a clear, compelling vision, and that without a deep conviction about the responses to these questions the church would flounder. He wrestled with these three questions in order to help us catch his vision for our church:
Why do people need Jesus Christ?
Why do people need the church?
Why do people need your particular church?
Why Do People Need Jesus Christ?
Here we don't mean to ask why Jesus Christ would be a nice thing for people to have in their lives. Rather, we ask, why do people need him? You are making disciples of Jesus Christ and inviting people to follow him. You are inviting them to change their lives and commit or surrender to Jesus Christ. So why do people need Jesus Christ?
We need Jesus Christ because he alone satisfies the deepest longings of the human heart. Persons will not find their deepest needs met when they go to the shopping mall or in another person. The need for unconditional grace and mercy, the need to believe that there's hope for the future, and the need to know that in the darkest moments of our lives the darkness will not prevail, are met only in Jesus Christ.
Jesus said, "I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even though they die" (John 11:25, TNIV). He gives us hope when we have been diagnosed with a terminal illness. When we are struggling with relationships and marriage, we can find no other hope than in the one who changes hearts. The great problems in our world—racism, poverty, and war—at their core are all spiritual problems. These problems have to do with the human condition that is broken in us, which can only be addressed by Jesus Christ. You must be absolutely convinced of this if you are going to reach people for Jesus Christ.
In Leading Beyond the Walls (Abingdon Press, 2002), Adam Hamilton shares,
Jesus Christ is the solution to the deepest longings of the human heart. He is the answer to the most serious problems that plague our society. When Jesus is Lord and the Holy Spirit enters the heart of the believer, we find the empty places filled, and the dark sides of our soul transformed. We are in the process of becoming 'new creatures in Christ.' Why do people need Christ? Because without him we will always be lost and our lives will never realize their God-given potential. He opens the door to a whole new world for us. He enriches every life he touches. He changes the world one person at a time, as his kingdom expands the globe (pages 22-23).
We must be able to communicate the answer to this question to people who are unconvinced of their need for Jesus Christ. We must be able to communicate in a way that is compelling to them, not just compelling to us. But first, we must believe it. It must be something we so believe in that when we are sharing it with people, they can see it in our eyes and hear it in our tone of voice. We must fundamentally believe that Jesus Christ is essential for being fully human. He is the answer to the deepest longings of our soul.
Why Do People Need the Church?
This question is important because you are not only inviting people to follow Jesus but to become a part of a church. There are those who believe in Jesus Christ but do not believe they need a church. Some are distrustful of organized religion. Some believe the church is narrow-minded and comprised of hypocrites, that all we want is their money. Others feel like the church is irrelevant, out of touch, and boring. So, if these people are not convinced they need organized religion, how do you persuade them that they need the church? The New Testament shows us that church is not our idea. The church was Jesus' idea. He organized his followers and said, "On this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it" (Matthew 16:18). Church leaders must have a fundamental conviction about the absolute necessity of the church if they are going to lead the church.
In fact, some research studies in the United States look at the effects that being a part of a church community has on physical health. These studies demonstrate that people live longer and that they're healthier in old age when they have a family, a church family, than those who don't have a church family.
Adam Hamilton shares this story about why we need the church:
When I was a child, a family in my neighborhood was among the first to purchase a Japanese car. It was a Honda. It was a little, tiny car. There were four of us kids in the neighborhood who decided to play a trick on the people who owned the car. So we went out in the middle of the night and we each took one end of the car and we picked it up and turned the car completely sideways in front of their house. There was virtually no way to move it the next day. They couldn't drive it because we moved it sideways. There was no way to get it out. I'm not suggesting you should do this. But this demonstrated to me the power of four people all working together with the same goal. And it paints a picture for me to show what can happen when Christians get together to work toward Christ's goals. And that is part of the power of the church—Christians working together to do what no one of us can do by ourselves.
We are convinced that we can never be the kind of Christians God wants us to be without other Christians. We need each other. God gave each of us different spiritual gifts. I need your spiritual gifts and you need my spiritual gifts. I need you to hold me accountable and you need me to hold you accountable for growing in Christ. I need to pray for you and I need you to pray for me. When I am sick and in the hospital, I need you to come visit me and when you are sick and in the hospital you need me to come visit you. As a church body, we are able to support one another even in our darkest times.
Through community, we have the opportunity to serve others. As a church, we pray for and care for one another. Right after our family had joined the church, my husband was still trying to be a weekend flag football warrior and suffered a full Achilles tendon tear while playing an out-of-state tournament. We arrived back in Kansas City, and he was sent to the hospital for immediate surgery. When we arrived at the hospital, there was a small group of people from the church, whom we had only barely met, waiting to pray for us before Reed went into surgery. They sat with me then and continued to visit during his hospital stay. They brought meals for the next month and were such a blessing to me as I cared for our two toddlers and for Reed. To this day I have never forgotten the blessing of a church community.
As a church body, we are able to support one another even in our darkest times. When one of our members lost his job, his small group was there to support and encourage him. When the wife of one of our members was killed in a tragic accident, her ministry team surrounded her family with love and care. When a woman confessed that she was addicted to sleeping pills, it was her pastor who got her the help she needed, while the support groups at church helped her stay accountable and drug free. One of our pastors received a call to go to the ICU where a man had been told his wife would not survive. When the pastor arrived, the man's small group was already in the room surrounding him with love and support. As his fellow believers, they were there carrying him through the darkest time in his life. This is what it means to be the church.
We also need the church because we were made to worship God together. In the midst of worship and singing with other Christians, I experience the presence of the Holy Spirit. Something happens to me when I hear the word of God preached; God speaks to me through the proclamation of the Word. Jesus said that where a few people are gathered, he is there (Matthew 18:20). I experience Christ just by being surrounded by his church gathered in worship. Together we are part of something so much bigger than any one of us. Together we can accomplish more for God than any of us can do by ourselves.
Why Do People Need Your Particular Church?
Assuming that you have the answer to why people need Jesus Christ and why they need the church, the third question to ask yourself is why people need your particular church? This was a very important question for us. When our church was starting there were dozens of other churches starting at about the same time. So why start another church? What is it that we offer that might reach someone that the other churches might not reach? We needed to be clear about what was special about our particular congregation. Not better than others, but what is unique about us? What are we going to be known for?
We determined that our church would be about reaching "thinking people" in our community by preaching sermons that spoke both to the heart and to the mind. We would offer great programs for children and youth, and we would equip our people to be salt and light in our community through service and outreach. We were also committed to excellence, and employed a "whatever it takes" approach to ministry.
During the first years of our church, a family moved to our community with a severely handicapped son. After their first visit, our pastor went to "mug" them as part of our follow-up strategy for first-time visitors (more on that in Chapter Four). During the visit, they told him that although they had enjoyed the service, we could not be their church home. When the pastor probed further, they said we were just too small and would not be able to minister to them as a family because of the special needs of their son. They talked more about what might be needed, and the pastor came back to the church the following Sunday and cast a vision asking if we were willing to do "whatever it takes" to be their church family. We mobilized our small church at that time to develop a ministry that would allow the family to worship weekly and attend Sunday school, while their son received personalized one-on-one care. Now, "Matthew's Ministry" is a thriving ministry and many of the children have now grown into adults who are ministering back to the congregation through a new bakery they call "Sonshine Bakery." They prepare pastries to sell in our café and other local coffee shops. From that "whatever it takes to be your church family" attitude, we now have a weekly ministry that serves over one hundred families in our community. We knew that there was a need for this kind of church and if we could become it, we would reach people in our community that no one else was reaching.
Armed with the answers to these questions, convicted and persuaded that people needed Jesus Christ, they need the church, and they need your particular church, you are ready to put the Catch principles to work and go fish for people.
To read more about Adam Hamilton's responses to the "three questions," look in chapter one of his book Leading Beyond the Walls.CHAPTER 2
Attracting People in Your Community
As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. "Come, follow me," Jesus said, "and I will send you out to fish for people." —Mark 1:16-17 (TNIV)
My father-in-law is an avid fisherman. He has learned that certain bait attracts a certain type of fish, but not another. He loves to fish in the local lakes in our area which are teeming with catfish, perch, crappie, and bass. Stinkbait, breadballs, and even a simple worm are tasty treats for catfish or a perch. But if you want to reel in a bass, he'll tell you that none of these options is effective. To catch the attention of a bass requires a live minnow or a shiny spinner lure. Crappie also like minnows, but not in the same way as the bass. In order to catch a bass, the minnow or lure is cast toward the shore in the shallow water where the bass feed. To catch crappie, you cast the minnow deep in the water and keep it still until the crappie takes notice.
Fishermen know that one single style of bait is not effective at attracting the variety of fish in a particular lake or body of water. You need a tackle box filled with a variety of baits, lures, and weights. As churches, one of the keys to becoming more effective at reaching people in our communities is to increase the tools in our evangelism tackle box. Too often, a church uses one style of reaching people, maybe a weekly ad in the newspaper, maybe a yellow page ad, or maybe the sign in front of your church. All are good methods, but alone they are not enough to attract the various unchurched people in your community.
Mark 1:16-17 (TNIV) says, "As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. 'Come, follow me,' Jesus said, 'and I will send you out to fish for people.' Note that the fishermen Jesus called were not fishermen for hobby or sport, they fished to survive. It was their livelihood. Too often, churches view evangelism as important, but not necessarily their livelihood. When churches regard evangelism as the very thing that keeps them alive, it becomes more than important; it becomes essential. Beautiful sanctuaries, well-organized kitchens, and the annual chili-feed are all important, but our survival as churches depends on our commitment to effectively fish for people.
Excerpted from Catch by Debi Williams Nixon, Adam Hamilton. Copyright © 2009 Abingdon Press. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
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