First Mennonite Church
June 5, 2016
Being a Sticky Church
Text: Mark 4:30-34
30 Again he said, “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? 31 It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. 32 Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade.”
33 With many similar parables Jesus spoke the word to them, as much as they could understand. 34 He did not say anything to them without using a parable. But when he was alone with his own disciples, he explained everything.
I’d like say a word about the title of my sermon today. Larry Osborne wrote a book with the title “Sticky Church.” After writing my sermon I thought the underlying theme is about the church’s capacity to attract and retain those who come. Therefore I borrowed the title.
Today, I want to address the following questions: How do we share the good news of the gospel? How can we attract people to our congregation to lead them to the Lord? I will try to answer these questions in three parts.
In the past, revival meetings were the common way the gospel was proclaimed to the unsaved. And indeed many came to the Lord through this method of evangelism. Then the small-group meetings became the way to reach out to the neighbors of Christian families. This method of doing evangelism was very effective in many congregations. It is also known as “cell groups” outreach method. Many churches still use the cell group method for their members to reach out to their relatives, neighbors and friends. Some churches like to host Christian music festivals or to bring well-known speakers to their churches. Other churches attract people by using mass media communication to air live their services via radio, TV, or live-streaming. Yet others, through their educational or youth programs they have.
Often times Mennonites have made reference to their being “the quiet in the land.” But often times this qualifier is used as an excuse to not being active in sharing the gospel. Mennonite were not always the quiet in the land when it comes to sharing their faith. Sometime shortly after the Anabaptist movement began, a gathering was held Augsburg, southern Germany, with the sole purpose of setting up a plan on how to do evangelistic outreach. This group of about 60 people came together to devise a plan to reach the Europe and beyond with the liberating power of Christ’s salvation. They planned to do something they knew was totally against the rule of the local government and the religious authorities. The group was later called the “Martyrs’ Synod.” Most of them died because they were caught and executed for sharing their faith. Also among the early Anabaptist there were the so-called “preaching pilgrims” who went throughout their provinces to preach the gospel. Married couples traveled to nearby towns to visit friends and relatives to share the gospel. In the market places women were very active in sharing the gospel too. They went to the market not only to sell or buy produce, but purposefully to tell others about their newly found faith in Jesus. This practice was so popular among Anabaptist women that it caught the attention of the authorities. The women were then tied to the produce tables so they would not roam about sharing their faith. But after a century of enduring persecution and exile and death, Anabaptists wanted some respite and they became “the quiet in the land.”
When Mennonites began to immigrate to the US and Canada they did what Mennonite missiologist James Krabill calls the “round up” approach of missions. When a Mennonite family arrived in the US or Canada, they either looked up for other Mennonites who have arrived and settled earlier in the area. In other cases, those who were already here looked up for those who were arriving so they could come together to form a church. I think in part this is what happened here in Paso Robles. Mennonites who came from Germany were joined by those who had earlier settled in Nebraska and elsewhere. The other method Mennonite used to grow their church, according to Krabill, was what he calls “bedroom evangelism.” Mennonite had large families, thus their churches grew. Now Mennonite church made up of descendants of those who emigrated from Europe are for the most part dwindling and in some places closing down. Therefore, it has become imperative for many Mennonite churches to do outreach. Such effort and re-taking of their original evangelistic spirit is not only necessary to their being faithful to the gospel but also essential to their survival.
Therefore, how do we attract people to our congregation so we lead them to the Lord? First, let me say that there are two ways to go to answer this question. If the goal is simply to bring people to our congregation marketing techniques might be helpful. Yet, we know that bringing in more people into the congregation should not be a goal in and of itself. Our purpose of bringing more people should be for the creation of a community of faith, where Christ is Lord and Savior, and where each member is committed to one other.
Churches have embarked on different kinds of activities and gimmicks to attract new people. Let me tell you how a church in Atlanta does it. Calvary Community Church, or 3Cs as the pastor calls his church, is a Mennonite Church in Atlanta. This church tried various ways to attract people into their doors. They put out ads on TV, radio and on various printed forms: newspaper ads, bulk mail fliers, special cards, etc. but none of these seemed to have worked. The congregation also became active in the community by providing tutoring services to students from elementary all the way to high school students. (In the end this church developed its own school from preschool to high school). They also gathered gently-used winter clothing to give away. And although these latter activities brought the church to the public light, what actually was more effective was the word of mouth from their own church members. The church members began telling others about what was happening at Calvary Community Church. Pastor Leslie Francisco says, “There has to be an excitement in those inside our church about what they are doing to the point of moving them to tell others about their labor of love.” There is nothing more compelling than a personal invitation. That in itself constitutes a commitment between the inviting church member and the guest.
Pastor Francisco shared a list of things churches and church leaders most do to be effective in retaining those who come to church.
The pastor most prepare a good spiritual meal. A good sermon should be like a well homemade dinner for Sunday, not a fast-food meal. Sermons take time to prepare but most of all it should have a sound biblical foundation. This also applies to everyone who teaches the word of God, like our Sunday school teacher for adults and children. Teachers of the word of God, let us strive to feed God’s people well by taking time to prepare and to pray for what we do. Pray for those who will participate in what you share.
The church facility do not and cannot always be fancy and modern, but it must be clean and well maintained. To some degree, church seekers often times are like diners. They go out where there is good food and good ambience. A clean and well-maintained facility is not only necessary for our and our guests’ use, but also because we call this place the “house of the Lord.” Christ comes to church with us every Sunday. Let us honor the Lord by taking care of this house.
People are attracted to churches where they feel welcomed and not scrutinized or judged. When a congregation clearly demonstrates the love of Christ towards its members through friendly interaction, prayerful support, active involvement for the needs of its less fortunate, visitors get to experience firsthand a place and people where God is present. And they want to become part of God’s work and God’s people who radiate his presence when they gather.
Churches attract others by their celebrative worship. When visitors experience the joy of being in the midst of a people where God is revered, praised, and honored, they desire for more. When a non-believer experiences the joy and awe of God’s presence in worship, prayer, and fellowship, they cannot resist when the Spirit of God calls them into a relationship with Christ.
In the parables of our passage today, Jesus describes the kingdom as the potential and result of a very small mustard seed. Let me make it clear, the church is not the kingdom of God. The church, however, is a sign of the kingdom of God. The church represents even if in a pale manner what God’s kingdom will be. The church is the closest thing there could be in terms of what God’s kingdom will look like. Jesus said the mustard seed is the smallest of all garden seeds. Yet when the plant grows and extends its branches, the birds find a place where they can rest and find protection. The birds find a homey place in the branches of the mustard plant. The birds are attracted when they find a place of respite from the scorching sun. They find a home where they can live secure. This is how the church should make feel everyone who comes into our doors.
I pray and commit with you into making FMC a place where everyone can find protection under the shadow of God’s grace. Let us unite in prayer, Let us unite working and serving the Lord and making this sacred place a space where God meets with us and everyone who gathers with us. Amen!