I just read an article with the following comment, "The Jesus model indicts the church of our generation - the church that prefers padded pews to blistered feet ... the church that finds itself preaching endlessly to ourselves while people wrenching in pain languish in the shadow of our landscaped buildings." Does this sound like any church that you know? Have you looked around on any Sunday morning to see how many people in the assembly you do not know? Most of us could name every person assembled and give some details about that person's life, right? My question is, "Why don't we have more local attendees in our assemblies?"
Before someone critically asks, "Are things any different where you preach?," let me share with you some figures. The church here in Williamsburg is not unlike most other churches, except we have always had our share of tourists because of our historical significance. Our attention is primarily turned toward those folk who live in our community. They are not considered visitors, but "guests" in our home! This may seem like a small thing, but you treat "guests" differently than you do "visitors." Each year we are blessed with more than 100 first time local "guests." Between 1998 and 2004, we totaled more than 650 first time local "guests." Now, that's from a community of less than 15,000 people.
The question we are most often asked is "Why do so many local folk visit your assemblies?" You might think that the answer would be, "I have no idea," but that's not true. Beginning in mid-1998 we began praying as a church family that God would send us people ... lots of people! (Acts 14:27; 1 Corinthians 16:9; 2 Corinthians 2:12)We placed this before God with great fervency and with the promise that we would do all we could to share His gospel with these folk. Within a short time folk began "dropping in" for no apparent reason. They just started coming, and the flow has never stopped. If we have an assembly without a first time local guest, we are greatly surprised and disappointed!
The important thing is not getting them to the assembly, but working with them once they have come our way. Our "guests" are allowed their anonymity as much as they choose. There are no buttons or stickers for them to wear. What does happen is that they are greeted warmly by people who care, really care! These folk are not left alone from the time they enter our building. Someone sits with them. Questions are answered. Prayer requests are recognized and addressed during the assembly. The assembly is briefly described. They are encouraged to participate at their own comfort level. Simply, the things that we take for granted are shared with them informally. Remember, many of these folk have not been in a church assembly for years, if ever! This may sound like it is very involved, but that's not the case at all. All of the above, and any other questions, can be addressed in a matter of a few minutes or less.
These folk are present with much hesitancy as they are usually not looking for a church with the right doctrine, but with the right heart! They are looking for relationships with loving people. They are hurting and wanting to find some solution for the pain. They are lost in the world of darkness and hoping to see a glimmer of light. (John 1:9) We have this one opportunity to develop a relationship that might lead to Bible study and salvation. The follow-up with these folk must be immediate if we hope to nurture this infant relationship. -227 Merrimac Trail, Williamsburg, Virginia 23185. (757) 253-5662
(Editor's note: I have a Bible given to me by brother Bill on April 19, 1974. It has almost fallen apart, but I have re-glued and rebound it and use it often. I highly respect Bill and love him for his love for lost souls. I have failed in the matters of Bill's lesson, and, because I have failed, souls have not been saved. May we, like Paul, be made all things to all men, that we might by all means save some. 1 Corinthians 9:19-27. This is a worthy article, and I believe it can help us to develop relationships that will lead to Bible studies and salvation.)
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