[Jesus said] “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:34-35
Many folks who belong to mainline churches have the same concerns when it comes to worship attendance. “How can we grow in number?” “What can we do to attract new members?” These are two of the most frequently asked questions during Evangelism committee meetings and other planning sessions. They are very good questions, but we seem to struggle with the answers. Perhaps our focus is misplaced. Could it be that our definition of evangelism is what needs clarification? Perhaps, just maybe, our hopes and expectations are what need to be re-aligned rather than our focus on membership rolls. Considering the state of the shrinking main line church, perhaps we need to get back to basics.
Before we can grow the church, we must first learn to grow as disciples. We must learn that living within our baptismal covenant with God means loving God with all our heart, and loving one another as we are loved. We need to come to the house of the Lord for worship, prayer and fellowship. Living within the bounds of our relationship rooted in Christ means enjoying the gifts we all bring to those gathered in this place and beyond. It means sharing in our mutual joys and celebrations, grieving in our losses, and experiencing our life together united in Christ Jesus. God calls his people to live lives of faith, love and service towards their neighbors. Being an evangelizing church means this is the example we share with the greater community. If we are concerned with attendance numbers on Sunday morning, our first response must be to look at our own worship habits.
The life we present to a world in need of God’s redemption makes a difference. All too often, the un-churched look upon Christians and see no appreciable difference in the way they live their lives. Many who profess to be Christians continue to live according to a worldly standard. Jesus, however, calls his disciples to live for God alone, loving and serving as Christ loved and served. The world is filled with people searching for hope, peace and love in their lives. Such hope is made sure and certain through Christ, and seen through the Church at worship, in community and in the mission of God according to the gospel. Such hope is shared by those who know Christ as Lord and God. such is the life Christians are called to live.
It is the love of God in Christ Jesus we share with anyone who wishes to be a part of this same community that brings people into the community of believers. When people of the world see the people of God living differently, they are provided a vision of hope for a life filled with God’s blessing. Sharing faith and doing good works bear witness to God’s grace. We don’t need to worry about new member drives and door to door sales pitches. Such tools are “designed” to spread the gospel, but the message often heard by the community is that the local church is looking for members. The real evidence that we are doing the work of evangelism comes when the life we live as Christians looks less like a fallen and broken world, and more like a community of faith, a community inviting others to come and see the goodness of God.
The evangelizing Church is an inviting Church. Evangelizing people are people who provide the world an example of what life as God’s beloved children looks like. It looks different. As Christians, living such a life is our calling. Loving God with all our heart, mind and strength leads to loving our neighbor as Christ loves us. Loving our neighbor leads to inviting them to come and see the good things of God. This should be how we define evangelism in our congregations; not with words and programs, but by our love and actions. After all, they will know we are Jesus’ disciples by our love.