Getting desperate for good

June 2nd, 2015

The Reverend Tim Ward, a pastor at Floris United Methodist Church in Herndon, Virginia, is opening a second campus, Restoration Church, in Reston, Virginia. A new subway line connecting Reston to Washington, DC, has increased population projections and opened a new opportunity to reach people for Christ. Starting a new congregation is difficult, even in the best of demographic conditions. Tim has two things on his side. First, he has a deep belief in evangelism. He believes that people are transformed when they engage in a relationship with Christ through the community of the church. Tim enjoys sharing his faith with others, is good at building relationships with new people, and has the leadership gifts to create a team from Floris to be missionaries to extend the congregation’s witness. Second, he is a little desperate. The campus he leads will need to reach critical mass and become financially self-sufficient in a limited period of time.

Most of us think of desperate as a bad word, like frantic or anxious. But it isn’t, necessarily. Desperation can be born from a sense of urgency so great that it compels us to take some sort of risk. We become desperate when we see an imperative or experience a deep need, and we realize that we must act, we must do something. The best part of being a little desperate is that it makes us highly creative and very energetic. To be clear, Tim’s primary motivation is that he is a bit desperate to see people enjoy the goodness of a relationship with Christ. That is the imperative, the urgent need. Either way, the Restoration Church team realized they had to get out and meet the community so that they could invite people to prelaunch services.

I was present the day the church had a booth at the Reston Oktoberfest. Restoration was the only church to have an information booth near a beer garden. Volunteers invited people to sign up for a free iPad as they told them about the new church and invited them to the opening worship service. Restoration Church volunteers also set up a booth at the Reston Farmers’ Market. As they gave away
information with free cups of coffee, they invited people to the church. A Christmas carol sing-along was held at the Reston Town Center near the popular ice rink. As people wandered over, they were given hot chocolate, homemade cookies, and songbooks. A short invitation was given to the launch service of the new church.

These events, along with direct mail initiations and other forms of communication, are the reason that nearly forty new people joined the Restoration launch team, leading to a total of over 180 people in worship the first week. At the end of this service, those gathered packaged backpack meals for kids in the Title 1 school at which the congregation is meeting. Word continued to spread about the church, and a week later fifteen additional new people attended along with most of those who had come to the launch service.

That is the power of a love for evangelism with a touch of desperation.

Contrast that level of focused energy and active hospitality toward people in the community with the average established congregation. Churches with over a fifty-year history typically think of hospitality
as what they do should a visitor enter the doors of the church facility. Even then most of us overestimate the hospitality we offer. The Lewis Center for Church Leadership of Wesley Theological Seminary asked church members in several states to attend nearby churches as visitors and report on their findings. Many reflected the difficulty churches have in viewing things from the perspective of people new to their church. The challenge is to think of everything from arrival to departure from the perspective of someone who has never been to your church before.

One example had to do with basic hospitality in the pews. While visitors were welcomed upon arrival, usually by the official greeters and the pastor, most were not greeted by those sitting around them. Churches who want to reach the community must help members see themselves as the “hosts of Christ.” A good host knows that the most important person is the stranger or the one left alone. Until hospitality becomes a part of the congregational ethos, have additional greeters stationed inside the sanctuary to welcome people, especially newcomers, and introduce them to church members as they are seated. Make sure they are greeted when the service is over and invited to a fellowship time or a study group.

If you have a desire to see your church reach others, consider these questions:

Does your church want to share Christ with others, and do people even feel a little desperate to do so?

If you do, what are churches in your area doing to successfully attract visitors? If you do not, what can you do as a leader to address this issue with the congregation?
What are you doing in your community to invite others to relevant church events and activities?

In what ways have you prepared church signage, hospitality, and the worship service for someone God may send you?

The key reason Tim and his team are reaching new people for Christ is that this is the focus of their prayers and activity. His launch team includes many people who have been Christians for most of their lives. Like Christians everywhere, they nurture their faith through participation in small-group Bible study. They attend worship and find ways to serve the poor. Unlike many churches, they believe that sharing their faith and church with others is a normative and joyful part of their life in Christ. For them, evangelism is a good word. The fact that they are a bit desperate to share the gift of Christ with others only makes them a more motivated and intriguing church to visit.

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