There are a lot of people with big ideas about growing church these days.
They write best selling books. They teach at sold out conferences. We look to them for all the answers, thinking that Jesus gives their ideas two thumbs up.
For example, I regularly get emails from a pastor friend at large mega church on his “secrets” of church growth which could be summed up in getting new folks busy volunteering as soon as they walk in the doors.
One popular church strategist once told me the key to getting visitors to come back is baking fresh and warm chocolate chip cookies and delivering them personally to visitors after Sunday morning worship. (I liked this plan but then believed I’d be the pastor who ended up eating more cookies than I delivered!)
Then, there are those experts who go back to this rule: if the church isn’t growing, then blame the pastor.
I heard one famous speaker at a young leader’s meetings say that the secret of the growth lied in the work ethic of the pastor. “If you aren’t willing to put 60-80 hours in a week—even if you are paid for less, then your church will not grow.”
But is this really the gospel? Is this really Jesus’ evangelism plan?
When I was a college student and in my more holy days than now (yes, really), I joined a local church’s outreach ministry and they felt like it was THE way.
To graduate the program we had to write our testimony of how Jesus had changed our lives in less than 300 words and read it to the class. (I totally failed because I wanted to write more than 300 words– surprise, surprise).
Then, we’d work with partners to go to neighborhoods, knock on doors and ask who ever answered: “If you died tonight, where would you go?” Then strike up a conversation about how they could get saved from hell. (I’m so embarrassed to say this now).
I don’t remember any encounters where we “achieved” our goal but boy, we tried. When we got discouraged, the church’s pastor would give us a pep talk us by our denomination’s mission: “Witness, Win and Baptize 1 million by 2004.”
And with such a harsh and authoritarian mission—you can imagine how this story all ended.
The denomination did not witness, win and baptize 1 million by 2004.
I soon became disillusioned to all faith plans that came with a formula.
But what about Jesus— are any of these ideas in line to how Jesus invited others into relationship?
When begin to read the call stories in the gospels of Jesus inviting his first disciples to come along, we realize this: Jesus’ evangelism plan (if he actually had such a thing) always began in context of a relationship.
And in John’s gospel it can be summed up by his three words: come and see. Beginning in chapter 1, this is how Andrew, Peter, and Philip said responded to Jesus. They wanted to come to see. Then comes along Nathanael.
But Nathanael, like so many of us, needed more. He needed more than just Philip, his buddy’s words on the matter. He needed to come and see himself.
When he meets Jesus for the first time, Jesus puts him at ease right away saying, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!”
What a complement this was (and true!)
But, Nathanael is confused asking, “Where did you get to know me?”
And Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.”
It was more than a statement about his geographic location. Jesus notices him. Jesus speaks truth to him. Jesus’ presence helps him to know that it is going to be ok, even with this big unknown ahead.
And I have to believe that at that moment everything changed.
For, seeing is powerful. It’s about a soul to soul connection.
Can you remember times in your life when you were rightly seen by someone else?
I’m so grateful for the countless people in my life who have “seen me” into being. And maybe the same has happened to you?
You wouldn’t be in the jobs you’ve found yourself in if someone didn’t name your gifts and encouraged you.
You wouldn’t be in the marriages or friendships you are in, if somebody hadn’t said maybe, I see that you would be great with so and so over there.
And most of all you probably wouldn’t have been a faith seeker if someone had not said, “come and see” and taught you in the ways of faith.
So what we accepted Jesus’ “come and see” approach as our own?
Start with: opening our eyes.
Then: really see somebody.
And start there.