(This article is part of the series “Building GenNext.” You can read the previous post by clicking here.)
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
~ 1 Corinthians 13.1-3, ESV
The elderly man tottered slowly into the foyer of the church building. He looked over his shoulder and glimpsed the bumper of his son’s Honda as it pulled away from the curb. Small knots of people were scattered around the warmly-lit entrance.
A deep sigh escaped from the depth of his soul. Being old was the pits. Just a few weeks ago he was living in his own apartment. A young couple would come every Friday to visit and take him out to run errands. On Saturday’s he had bible class with a family. Tuesdays he’d go fishing with Clive. The church had been so supportive and loving. Then, one Thursday evening, his whole life was turned upside down. His shaky legs finally gave out on him and the next thing he knew, he was staring up at those cold glaring hospital lights. Charlie’s son had flown down from Washington to make sure he was ok. A week later, all his worldly goods were boxed up and moved to a little room in his son’s house, over 800 miles away from all his friends and brethren in the church.
Charlie felt gratitude towards his son for caring enough to take him in and not committing him to one of those dungeon-like nursing homes. And yet, he almost wished he could be in one. At least all those folks he loved so dearly would be close by.
Charlie wished his son would have at least dared to darken the door of a church building today. He knew from experience that people tended to avoid elderly folk. He didn’t want to be useless or friendless—a prospect he was facing, especially as not a soul had acknowledged his existence in the last five minutes…
He continued to hobble slowly into the building and sat down in a pew a few rows up from the back. A few folks nodded to him and smiled, but not a single person came to say hello. Just as services were about to begin, a middle-aged man approached him, extending his hand. They were only able to talk for a few minutes, but Kyle—the younger man—invited him to lunch.
Weeks passed and Kyle was the only person to introduce himself. In spite of the young man’s repeated friendliness, Charlie still felt lonely, isolated. Soon, however, Kyle’s persistent joviality had pulled him into a men’s bible study. He liked Kyle, but it saddened him to see the apparent unwillingness of many of these folks to extend any interest in this old man.
The previous two posts here have dealt with the first of our 6 E’s of building GenNext: Engage.
Engaging, or building relationships, is the foundation of growing the church because, at it’s heart, it’s aim is brotherly love. The first post dealt with engaging children/young people, the second addressed new Christians. Today’s article will focus on building relationships with existing Christians in your congregation, whether they have recently moved into the area from somewhere else or whether they have worshipped with you for years.
Every congregation has a core—an unofficial group of members who show up to nearly every function, work party, moving help, or bible class. These are the folks who are actively involved in the church in whatever capacity they are suited to. Sometimes they are noticed, sometimes not, but they are familiar, reliable faces. Their absence is felt if not always acknowledged. This “core,” as I like to call it, varies in size depending on the local church. I have been in places where the core is roughly 90% of the congregation with 10% of the members being on the fringe due to home-bound illnesses or lack of desire to participate. I’ve been in other congregations in which that percentage was flipped. Those churches struggle to survive. No matter what the situation, our congregations should seek to expand this core, bringing the fringe members in so that there is no longer a core, but rather an entire group that works together as a family. This begins with building meaningful relationships.
Unfortunately, there are some members that often get left on the fringe not due to lack of faith, but rather due to life circumstances. This includes:
- single parents
- married couples without children
- singles (particularly older singles)
There are probably more categories I could add to this list, and if there is someone I’ve left out, please mention it in the comments below. Family units are often at the heart of the church and many programs and classes are targeted towards their needs. In whatever season you find yourself, it is imperative that you reach out to the individuals who float on the edge. They need our love, support an interest just as much as family groups.
Here are some suggestions to “Expand the Core”:
- Reach out to those beyond your peer group. This is as simple as walking over and introducing yourself. Maybe you could invite them to lunch after services. Your friendliness may be rejected. It’s ok. But each week for about a month, focus on that individual and make a point to talk to them each week. If, after a month, they don’t want anything to do with you, shift your focus to another individual. Building relationships demands time. You can catch someone on a bad day, and if you only talk to them that one time you may think they want nothing to do with you. Give them some focused attention for at least four weeks. Ask them what their interests are. Talk about trivial stuff if need be, but if you seek them out for four weeks straight, they will realize that you are trying to get to know them.
- Send notes to shut-ins. It’s helpful if you know them first. If you do not, it’s time to go and visit. Take someone along who knows that individual already. It’ll make everyone more comfortable. Afterwards, send them a note at least once a month to let them know that you are thinking of them. Maybe set up another visit! Don’t forget to pray for them!
- Invite people who don’t typically attend group functions. Let’s say there’s a potluck in which all the members are invited to “Brother Bob’s” house. It’s been announced during services and the invitation is for all, but you know that you never see this particular person at any of these gatherings. Walk up to them and ask if they are going. Invite them to come with you. Offer to give them a ride. It could be that they need assurance that they are actually welcome. Your informal “invitation” may give an introvert reassurance that they won’t be stuck in a corner with nobody to talk to. (hint: don’t ditch them once you get to said function, take them around and introduce them to people!)
- Team up with someone to invite new people to your home for a meal weekly, bi-weekly or monthly. By new people, I refer to people you do not know well. Get together with a close friend or couple and agree to help with cooking, hosting, preparations (or whatever), and designate a day in which you are both available. Then, start going through the directory and inviting people over on that day. Your friend might relate to certain people better than you and vice versa. This is a great way to connect with people within the church and make those individuals feel valued.
If you are an introvert like me, this might seem hugely intimidating. Serving Christ and extending love to others was never meant to make us comfortable nor is it easy. Team up with the extroverts in your life—it might be that they need a little prodding to talk to people they don’t normally notice.
If we want our congregations to grow, they must first be a place in which people show love towards one another. We are constantly encouraged in the New Testament to demonstrate our love for fellow Christians, and not merely the ones with whom we easily relate.
And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.
~ Galatians 6.9-10, ESV
Be sure to join me for the next post as we discuss the Next ‘E’ of Raising GenNext: “Exemplify: Demonstrating how a Christian ought to live.” Until then, may the Lord bless you in your service to Him.