#3: Take the initiative to build relationships with people and groups in the wider community beyond your congregation. Refuse to be isolated. Take to the streets, the coffee shops, library and parks of your community. Be curious about what’s going on. Get involved in community events. Meet people. Introduce yourself as a member of the church. Invite people to “come and see.”
—Anthony B. Robinson
As we continue in our list of the Seven Habits of Highly Effective Churches, we come to one that I’m confident will cause at least some of you to feel a sense of high anxiety. Actually admitting in a public setting that you are a practicing member of a local congregation, much less extending an invitation, isn’t something most of us are eager to do. Studies in Church Growth consistently find that the most effective way to bring new people to church is for members to invite them directly. But, in our tradition we are very hesitant to do so. I’ve often heard people say that they don’t wear their religion on their sleeve, and they would rather not be confused with “that kind of Christian.” I’m sympathetic, believe me.
However, as I will continue to point out, the days are past in which we could simply open our doors and greet people warmly as they flock in. Anthony Robinson’s little book that I’ve been quoting actually spells out two different sets of habits. I’ve been talking about the habits of “Effective” churches, but if you flip his book over, you find a list of the habits of “Ineffective” churches. The two sets of habits are mirror images of one another. For this third habit, ineffective churches: “Practice the following evangelism strategy: ‘If they want us, they know where to find us.’ Assume that everyone does know where you are and what you are. It can also be helpful if your building looks like a medieval fortress. If you don’t have that going for you, encourage your ushers and greeters to look like palace guards as they perform their role.”
Obviously, Robinson is exaggerating to make a point, but not by much. The fact is, we are way more comfortable within our own walls than we are being out in the community as church members. In the last three years, our Mission Team has been working to overcome this. They’ve been making sure everyone who wants one has a First Congregational Church of Manchester T-Shirt, and encouraging us all to wear them proudly in public, especially at out-of-the-building mission events. Our Special Olympics team has gotten some very positive recognition for our church this way.
Bottom line though, if we truly love our church, wouldn’t we want to share it with others? FCC is a wonderful, warm and caring congregation with a long list of very positive qualities. As your pastor, I would never ask you to carry your religion on your sleeve. But I do hope you won’t burry it in your deepest, darkest pocket either. Why not try inviting someone to share in the church community you love? You may be surprised at how much more “effective” we can be.
Yours in Grace,