“Come and See”
1 Corinthians 1:1-9; John 1:29-42
I’ve had a lot of interesting conversations over the last few years about the state of the church. At some point we always end up talking about people who don’t go to church any more. I seriously have this conversation at least twice a week. It’s not my agenda to talk about it. I don’t direct the conversation. But, I always am able to spot the very second when I know we’re on the path to this particular topic.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m more than happy to talk with people about the current state, and the future of the church. To talk about how great the church used to be and how we lament the future we see due to declining membership and the lack of people coming in to offset those who leave. I am more than happy to hear your thoughts on the topic.
At some point, someone will ask, “What can we do to get more people into church?” I just shrug my shoulders. I don’t offer a lot of answers to this question, in fact I prefer offer more questions or insights into the current state of the church. Why? Because the answer is different for every church, every community and every single person.
We know the excuses everyone offers up when the conversation moves to church attendance. “I’m busy with the kids’ hockey…” “Sunday morning is the only chance I get to relax…” “I’m so busy….” and so on.
These excuses are true. Sunday is just another day of the week now. It’s no longer a day where the only thing open in town is the church. People have an endless list of options to select from when they get up on Sunday morning. To be honest, in some ways I’m glad we have these options. It means that the people who are here on Sunday morning have made the conscious decision to pick the church over all the other options out there. You really want to be here, and I’m glad to see you.
But what happens next? We hear of churches around us who are barely hanging on week to week. Their futures uncertain. They spend a lot of time trying to find ways to pay the bills on a month to month basis. We might also wonder how much longer we have as a church family as we see the lack of young families coming into our own building.
On Friday afternoon, someone shared with me what she remembered of an article in a secular magazine she read sometime last year. It was the story of a young couple, who after years decided they would try out going to church. When they went, they found something that no Facebook, no email, no text message could ever give them. It gave them a genuine community of people who cared about them and the world they lived in, and it happened in a place where the deeper questions of life could be explored.
Our young people, our young families are seeking this connection. Why do you think things like Facebook become so incredibly popular? It’s because they long for personal relationships with other people. They want to connect with friends and be able to share and talk about the things that are important in their lives. They want to be able to explore the questions they have and be in a safe environment for these discussions. Those who have stepped out and risked coming into the church have been able to find these things and even more. They find warm, welcoming atmosphere and a place where they feel safe and be in close company with other people. But how do we get there?
As we start to read Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth we find some hope. Paul acknowledges to this little church that God is working through them. They live in a place where there is a lot of idol and false god worship, and the church is struggling in a place where people find other priorities over the church. He reassures them saying,
“I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Paul reminds the people of Corinth that God has given them all they need in order to be a faithful Christian church. He has given them the gifts. He has given them the strength to do what needs to be done. God has called them all to be one with Jesus Christ and also to be faithful witnesses to his saving work in the world.
When you think about it, we are not that different. We live in a world where people have other priorities. We live in a world where people worship idols and false gods. Things haven’t changed. The church struggled at the beginning, and it continues to struggle today. In the grand scheme of time, there was a brief period where the church was the most important thing around, but we have reverted back. We have become a fringe group. We’ve gone back to a time when the church was not seen as significant or important. We’re just another choice to make in a world of options.
We need to start thinking like the early church again. We need to start acting like the first disciples who followed in the footsteps of Jesus. We need to be like John the Baptist and Andrew in our reading from the Gospel of John this morning.
We need to stand up and say, “There is Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God.”
We need to be like Jesus when people come to him asking questions about what he is doing and be willing to say, “Come and see.”
The Barna Group is a research organization that focuses on the intersection between faith and culture. In one report it published, it found that 73% of people who don’t attend church were never invited.
Imagine, never even invited. When we look at what Jesus did as he walked the countryside, he invited people to join him. He invited them to come and follow him. He wanted people to see what he was doing. He wanted them to feel like they were being included. He made them feel welcome. He made them feel like they were a key part to what he was doing in the world.
When we look at the early churches recorded in the book of Acts; the letters Paul wrote to the new churches all over the region, we see that they grew through welcoming others and inviting them to be part of what it was God was doing in their community.
We might sometimes wonder why we don’t have the building overflowing every Sunday. We might wonder if our church is of any worth if we don’t have lots of people in the pews.
But again we remember the words of Paul in his letter. He tells the church that God has already blessed them with all they need to be faithful. They already have the gifts they need to be witnesses of the faith in their communities. God has blessed them with the people they have and now they can be a church in community that needs them.
We are no different. We have all we need in order to be a welcoming, faithful family of God. We have knowledge of the faith. We have an established community with a rich history on the Northside. We have sent many ministers and lay people off to serve across this country in just 100 years. We have these skills. The faces may have changed, but the memory still lives on. We may not be the biggest church in town. We may not be the richest church in town. But we are a church. We are God’s people and we have been blessed by Him to share our faith with others.
There’s an online approach to marketing that seems to be really catching on. There are companies called GroupOn or TeamBuy who offer discounted coupons for services or products if enough people sign up for the offer. A few weeks ago you could have had a day at Ben Eoin for 50% off regular price if you were one of the 20 people who said they wanted that deal. With these businesses, if you see something you like being offered, then you commit to buying it and hope that enough other people sign up and join you.
The beauty of being a Christian is that it doesn’t matter how many people are here. You don’t need a certain amount of people joining you as a Christian in order to receive the reward. You just need to commit yourself to following Jesus Christ and let God lead you on the way. It’s a personal decision, not a group decision. You make the commitment on your own behalf. If you sign up for the deal then it’s yours. Just you. No one else needs to promise to sign up with you, you do it alone.
However, it’s not a deal solely for you. This is a free gift and you can share it with whoever you want.
Remember, 73% of the population have never even been invited. So if you are having a discussion like I often find myself in, talking about the role of the church, it’s importance, it’s future, and someone asks you, “What’s the big deal?”. Just simply look and them and say, “Come and see.”
Come and see my friend, come and see.