Grace came with joy and excitement to her new community. She was happy to meet new people, and excited for the opportunity to grow in her faith. She had come from a congregation that embraced her with love, had nurtured her faith, and taught her about Jesus. Grace didn’t know that every church wasn’t like the one she grew up in. But now out of college and entering the workforce for the first time on her own, Grace came to the big city. She didn’t know anyone, but with the help of her new coworkers she found a place to live, and she was thrilled that it was only about a mile to the church her pastor had recommended. It was called Ebenezer Church. Once she moved into her apartment, she called the pastor at Ebenezer to schedule an appointment to learn more about the ministry there.
Pastor Smalls agreed to meet her the next day and she came to the appointment eager to get involved the way she had been at home. She knew that one of the best ways to settle into a new community was to jump in and serve. Pastor Smalls began their meeting with a cheerful smile, and a welcome. He showed her around the church, told her about service times, and shared with her some of the ministries that the congregation currently offered. Grace listened intently, wondering how she could plug in, but it seemed to Grace that most of the ministries were designed to serve only the people of Ebenezer Church. So she asked Pastor Smalls, “What are the ministries that reach into the larger community to share Jesus with those who don’t know Him?” Pastor Smalls responded with a quizzical look on his face as if to suggest he didn’t comprehend her question. He explained that Ebenezer had grown quite small, and there was not enough interest or volunteers to do more than what they were doing. Pastor Smalls gave her some literature and offered to pray with her, and Grace understood that their meeting was over.
Grace was unsure about worshipping at Ebenezer, but she decided to go that Sunday. She arrived early, and found a greeter at the door who shook her hand and said welcome to worship. She tried to strike up a conversation but got little to no response. She milled around the narthex hoping to be noticed and welcomed by others. Nobody approached her. She found a seat in the sanctuary on the front left side about two rows back, and it seemed that there were plenty of seats available. About five minutes later she was asked to move because “that’s where we usually sit.” Grace moved to another pew. As the service began it was familiar, but she found that there was little energy and enthusiasm in the participation. As she looked around the sparse attendance she understood what Pastor Smalls had said about the congregation. Pastor Smalls preached a very good sermon, but Grace noticed that some people kept looking at their watch and yawning. Sunday at Ebenezer was uninspiring.
Grace left Ebenezer a little discouraged and disillusioned. She thought that all churches had joy-filled worship with people who liked to be with one another. She thought that all churches understood the call of Jesus to “Go and make disciples of every nation,” and that worship was to build believers up to go out into the world to connect people to Jesus. One of the very first Bible verses she memorized came from John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” The pastor she grew up with had taught the congregation that Jesus was pointing them to go into the world. This same Jesus said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” (Mt 9:37–38). Grace was certain that Jesus meant the world needed to be harvested, and that the Church was to be sent out as the laborers to reach those who didn’t know the truth of salvation in Jesus. Yet it seemed that Ebenezer was focused on caring only for itself. She went home that day confused and disheartened. She knew that the only way that a church like Ebenezer would grow is if it reached beyond itself to share the good news to the people in the surrounding community. She struggled with whether to return to Ebenezer or to find another church to attend.
Grace’s story, while fictional, is actually a compilation of stories I’ve heard and even experienced in my own life. The reason people worship at a church is as varied as the people themselves. We do a great disservice to our Lord when we allow the church to become self-serving. When we evaluate our ministry and find that most of what we do serves only our needs, we are off track. Jesus has sent us into the world, and the ministry of the church is to encourage believers to live out their faith in ways that show the love and grace of Jesus to the world around us. Church isn’t about “putting in our time for God,” but rather about being built up and prepared to live out our faith wherever God places us. It’s not about impressing God–as if we could. Through Jesus He’s redeemed us, called us His own, and wants to work through us to reach into the world and show people His grace, His forgiveness and His love. He does that through you and me!
So let me ask you. How do you make the visitor feel when they enter your church campus? What is the impression that people who are not members of your congregation have when the leave? Every church sees itself as a friendly church because often members are friendly with each other. When a stranger appears, how are they received? Often we feel like someone else will be responsible to greet them, when God may just be calling on you. In Hebrews 13:2 we read, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” Our motivation isn’t to score points with Jesus. Instead, consider the privilege we have of welcoming others in His name. When people visit the church it is a responsibility of every member to welcome them in the name of Jesus. Making people feel welcomed and special is a reminder of grace, neither earned nor deserved, but freely given!
August is a time when people seem to get back into the routines of life. Schools are starting up again and often people seek to establish new patterns of life. That may include attending church. Are you ready to receive those who might come? Peter tells us in 1 Peter 3:15, “But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.” Do it for Grace, do it from grace, but do it all for Jesus!
In His peace,