A couple of months ago, a young man was invited to our church. He was not a church goer. But the day that he turned up in our weekly Sunday morning worship service something happened to him. Although English was not his first language, and despite coming from a culture that is famously opposed to Christianity, he heard and understood clearly enough that day – and despite what he had been told all his life – that there was a God in Heaven who loved him and had been directing him throughout his life to this moment. In response to this work of the Holy Spirit he declared his surrender to Christ and was subsequently baptised in our June water baptism service. From that point, each time someone asked him how he had come to Christ, his eyes would water and he would get emotional just at the thought of how Christ had saved him. But all of this could have been derailed if it hadn’t been for the warm welcome, love, and acceptance he found in our church when he first came. It’s the stories like these that make me proud to be the pastor of our church!
Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. Romans 15:7
We live in apple orchard country which is why most of us understand what’s involved in harvesting them. Each mature apple tree has low hanging fruit which is the easiest to harvest. The rest of the tree involves a bit more work to harvest – especially the high hanging fruit. In some respects, the above story is an example of harvesting ‘low hanging fruit‘. The idea of harvesting an apple true is a great way to illustrate how our church can become a church that wins.
W – WELCOME
This, and many other stories like it, show how we can win as a church. This particular story is an example of what happens when we pray for God to bring people in, and then He does. But like any prayer we pray, our partnership with God doesn’t end with the “Amen” of our prayer. When Abraham prayed for a son, God came to him and promised him that ‘this time next year, Sarah will give birth to a son’ (Genesis 18:4). I’m pretty sure and Abraham and Sarah didn’t just keep praying that this promise from God would be fulfilled! We too must take the next steps of faith in order to receive from God the answers He has for us. When we pray for God to bring people into our church, and He does, our next step is to welcome them.
Welcoming people to church involves acknowledging them with a greeting (such as, “Hello”, “Hi”, “Welcome”) and doing it with eye contact. We don’t need to give them 20 questions – we just need to let them know they are welcome, and that we accept them. When God answers our prayers to bring people to church, and all we have to do is welcome them, we are, as they say, picking the low hanging fruit – an expression which means this kind of outreach is relatively easy. I think everyone in our church can be a part of this.
For I was hungry and you gave Me food, I was thirsty and you gave Me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed Me Matthew 25:35
I – INVITE
He said to them, “Come and you will see.” So they came and saw where He was staying, and they stayed with Him that day, for it was about the tenth hour…(46) Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” John 1:39, 46
Metaphorically (using words as pictures) the fruit that is notlow hanging and involves a bit more effort to reach and is little harder to pick. We continue to pray for God to help us to reach these people and again the answer to those prayers will involve us inviting people to church. This may come after we’ve shared our story with them, or after they’ve shared with us about some of the challenges they’ve been facing in life. While I would love for everyone in our church to be an inviter, I understand that this is not always easy for everyone to do. But there are some (and perhaps you’re one of them) who find inviting people to church, or an event our church puts on, to be an easy thing to do. According to one study I saw, around 70% of people would say yes to an invitation to attend church if they were invited. I would love to see our invite rate improve. Perhaps for those of who feel more comfortable welcoming people to church than inviting people to church, it might be nice to pray for our inviters to be bold, attractive, winsome, and effective as they invite their friends, family, and work colleagues to church.
And the master said to the servant, ‘Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled. Luke 14:23
N – NUDGE
There are some people who seem to be so hardened to Christianity, that it seems they could never turn to Christ. These are the people who are unlikely to just turn up at church – even in answer to prayer – or ever accept an invitation to come to church. Their unwillingness to even discuss the matter might even arouse a hostile response from them, “Don’t you dare ever talk to be about religion!” Maybe they were hurt (or worse) by some ‘Christian’ or perhaps they had a negative experience with a church, or maybe they are defiantly living a life so opposed to Biblical standards that they resent the God of the Bible. Possibly the best way to reach such a person as this is to nudge them.
He answered them, “I also will ask you a question. Now tell me… Jesus (Luke 20:3)
There are several ways to nudge a person who is this resistant to the Gospel. The first way is to put ‘a stone’ in their shoe, so to speak. This can be done with an appropriate question that gets them thinking and even questioning their views about life, the world, and the existence of God. The second way is to provide them with an inexplicable act of kindness. The third way is to let them observe your life over a longer period of time as you deal with life’s highs and lows – and even tragedies – so that your faithful, consistent witness, throughout it all bears a clear testimony to the presence of God in your life. Nudging someone toward Christ can take years. Many years.
One of the best examples of this that I am aware of relates to someone no one ever thought would ever turn to God. In the middle of the twentieth century, Professor Antony Flew, along with some other secular humanists (atheists) produced The Humanist Manifesto in which they argued against the existence of God and the need for all humans to behave ethically despite this. Many years later, Prof. Flew toured America promoting atheism in public lectures and denouncing Christianity in particular. He and his fellow collaborators, including Prof. Bertrand Russell, thought that all Christians were fools and morons for believing in God. As part of his USA lecture tour he agreed to a series of public debates about the existence of God with a Christian. His debating opponent was Professor Gary Habermas. As the debates got underway, Flew realised that Habermas was more than his equal intellectually. In fact, Dr. Habermas challenged Prof. Flew’s atheism in ways that Antony Flew had never considered. This was a significant stone in Professor Antony Flew’s shoe! After each of these debates Gary Habermas would take the aged British academic out for dinner. Prof. Flew was surprised by the kindness of Dr. Habermas. As they talked over their dinners, Antony Flew got to know Gary Habermas and discovered that for several years he had had to care for his very ill wife (this was something the sceptical atheist Chicago Tribune journalist, Lee Strobel, also encountered when he interviewed Gary Habermas for a story he was writing and ended up featuring Habermas’s story in the movie about Lee’s conversion, The Case For Faith). These very personal exchanges between Flew and Habermas revealed that Habermas’s faith in the God of the Bible was not some cold, formal, religious duty, but a personal relationship with this God that enabled him to be sustained throughout life’s tragedies. Dr. Gary Habermas and nudged Prof. Antony Flew!
The result of these little stones in Flew’s shoes was dramatic but not immediate. The last book that Antony Flew wrote before he died was a book in which he renounced atheism as wrong and extolled the God of the Bible!
While I think everybody in our church can make visitors/new attenders to our church feel welcome, I realise that not everybody can invite someone to church. Let’s pray for our inviters! And, I acknowledge that only a few in our church can be good nudgers. Let’s pray for our nudgers! By welcoming, inviting, and nudging, we are learning to become a church that wins.