"I don't believe in that crap and you'll never see me step foot in a church." In my head, this was not the direction I had imagined this conversation would go. I always try to press into our church family to be good neighbors and to constantly look for opportunities to share Jesus. Each year just before Easter, we challenge our church family to the each one, reach one campaign. This campaign is an intentional four weeks of sharing our faith and inviting someone to church. I never wanted to settle to be the "do as I say, but not as I do" kind of pastors. If I expect it of my church family, I better be doing it myself. So a few years back, I decided I wanted to try to reach a neighbor I had never met before.
David was one of those neighbors you barely even knew lived there. Sure, his yard was well kept. His mail never overflowed. His car would appear and disappear. But you rarely ever saw him outside. When you did see David, it was like seeing Bigfoot or the Chupacabra. Ok, maybe that's a bad comparison. He seemed like a friendly person. He was an older man. Single. One day, I went for a walk to try to see if David was out and sure enough there he was in the yard. As soon as I saw him, I did the 15 foot eye contact, 10 foot wave, and the 5 foot "hello." Before I finished the "ello" of my "hello," he said, "I don't believe in that crap and you'll never see me step foot in a church."
Now, every area of the country is different, but in our neighborhood door-to-door evangelism is not the best strategy (another post for another time). At this point, I thought, "Mission failed." But I decided to press in a little. I asked him, "What do you mean?" He said, "I know who you are. You're the pastor of that crazy church over there." I pushed a little more because there are quite a few churches in our neighborhood. I said, "Oh yeah? Which one?" *Points directly towards our church building. Gulp. So I said, "Why do you think we're crazy?" He said, "You really want me to believe a dead guy came back to life? I've heard you guys believe that, but I'll never believe it." I said to him, "Yeah, I used to say that too." He looked up at me with his snow white hair and long Sam Elliott mustache and said, "What do you mean?"
For the next half hour or so I was able to share with David my own story of being a skeptic. I mean, it does sound crazy. Dead for three days. Alive for eternity. I told him, "Why don't you come next Sunday (Easter) and hear why the resurrection is crazy...but true? And I'll tell you what, if you come, we can hangout after I'll buy lunch and talk some more. Sure enough, David came to church that Easter Sunday. And we went to lunch. And he came many times after that before he eventually moved down south after retiring (last I checked he's still in church).
As Easter approaches us, I want to remind you that a simple invitation to Jesus is just that...simple. In the half hour of talking to David, I didn't have all the answers to all of his questions, I didn't give some six-point theological argument against atheism, nor did I even start the conversation with church, Jesus, or my story. Sure, there are times where we need to give answers and arguments (1 Peter 3:15). Sure, there are times where we need to begin with the Gospel. Time is short. The mission is urgent. But I fear too many times we overcomplicate sharing our faith or even simply inviting someone to church.
I want to give you three ways you can invite your neighbor (or anyone) to church on Easter Sunday:
1. Be present in the community.
With David, I knew who I was going to talk to because my family and I would take walks every Friday through our neighborhood. As we walked, we intentionally took the time to notice who lived where and have gotten to know so many neighbors simply by just being present in our neighborhood. Maybe walking around the neighborhood is not your thing. Maybe there is something you are already doing in the community you can be intentional about doing. So if you've joined a gym, go to the same grocery store or gas station, volunteer at an event, or coach a team, just be intentional about inviting when you are present with others. And maybe this seems a bit obvious to say, but I feel the need to say it: you can't invite those you're not around. Be present.
2. Actually invite them.
Here's the easy part, but the most forgotten part: You actually have to invite them. You have to take the time to talk to them. Saying "hello" doesn't translate into, "Come with me." You have to actually invite them. Don't assume they will say no. Don't assume they don't want to. Assume that if you invite them, they will actually consider it and have the potential to say yes. Maybe you're wondering, "What do I say?" A simple invitation is just that...simple. Keep it short. Keep it personal (Say something like, "Will you come with me to church?"). Start with something as simple as, "Hey, do you go to church anywhere?" or, "Hey, do you have any plans for Easter Sunday?"
3. Don't quit.
It would have been very easy to just keep moving down the sidewalk with words like "crap," "crazy," and "never" in reference to your church and your faith. If you're the sensitive type, you may even find yourself a little offended. The reality is, people need the Gospel of Jesus. People need the Church of Jesus. We have the great privilege of being salt and light in our community. There was a time where we didn't know Jesus and someone was intentional enough to invite us. Let us do the same!