I was visiting the gathering of a church where my daughter and her husband were attending to see why they found it so compelling. The church met in an out of the way unfinished warehouse of a building on the wrong side of the tracks (which literally ran through their parking area). This third service of the morning was packed with millennials as was the previous two. I have to admit that I saw passionate worship and was taking mental notes of the sermon myself. But what the extra something was that made this gathering matter so much to those who came was how the leaders used this time around singing and preaching to invite people to move from spectators to kingdom agents. Before the service was over, attenders had been invited to take part in a short term mission, consider being part of a new church plant, take another step in their discipling, join a small group and cross the line of faith.
I get around to many churches in the course of my ministry. I hear pastors lament that they cannot get the people they undershepherd for Jesus to take new ground for the kingdom. Or to pursue a kingdom ministry according to how God wired them. Or to even take some more growth steps in their own pursuit of God. What is crazy about these ‘Oy vay’ tales is that they come from pastors who regularly miss the best opportunity to guide those in their congregation forward in all these areas.
The gathering is the one time each week when the bulk of those who make up your church are together. And while worship and preaching the Word should take precedence, this will be your greatest opportunity to regularly guide them to ‘what’s next’ in their faith journey individually and corporately. And I am not talking about giving an old-fashioned invitation.
I grew up in the tradition that ended every service—morning, night or noon—with an invitation to come forward to do one of several things. People could come and confess Jesus as Savior. They could join the church by baptism or by a letter from their former church (this is not a normal practice today). Or they could come and get prayed over for personal needs and heartaches. The congregation would not be allowed to stop singing and the service would not be over till the last person coming forward was counseled or enfolded or prayed for. Many churches still have some form of these options offered during their gatherings.
But this is not what I am referring to. If you are going to have a gathering that matters, the people who are the church need a clear pathway offered weekly so they will not be just spectators of your worship and teaching team. What this means is you evaluate how you use the beginning, middle and end of your gathering time before you dismiss them. Do you want them to take another step in their growth as believers through some teaching or mentoring process? Do you want them to go on a mission trip? Join a team that is making an impact on the community? Learn to share their faith? Understand their place in the faith community? Become part of a small group? Attend special biblical or doctrinal training classes? If so, what would you do each week during the gathering, especially at the end before you send the congregation out, to help them take such a step?
I ask this because the answer in many churches I visit is NOTHING. People come and go without any opportunity put before them that would change the direction of their faith journey. And do you know what happens? NOTHING . . . except leaders in these churches experience growing frustration as the people of the congregation seem to stay unengaged and stunted in their faith. If you do not plan to ask believers you oversee to engage in specific ways, you will find that people are willing to coast along and the church will not gain ground.
But in a number of churches I see leaders who understand that they have a shot at using the congregation’s attention weekly and are willing to make the most of it. These leaders plan each week how to communicate steps they want to see people take in the Kingdom. Not only do they plan what to say weekly, they plan what they need to do to help cement people’s decisions. They set up tables at the back or in the hallways or at the entry staffed with key leaders to explain the process further and connect people into whatever they are seeking to do. Small group leaders populate the tables where potential attenders can apply. Ministry leaders interact with those exploring how to plug in. Mission leaders explain the impact their sacrifice will make to those that inquire. Discipleship mentors connect with those ready to take a new step. Etc. You get my drift on this.
The ubiquitous Geico ad always ends with announcing 15 minutes can save you money. In terms of the life of your congregation, 15 minutes of planning to challenge people to take the next step in their faith journey can save you lots of frustration. Stop waiting for people to step up and invite them to, then show them how. It will be a fitting ending to a gathering that matters.