Frequently, in meetings with other church leaders, I’m told: “There is little hope for our church to have any influence in our community much less the world. We are small and only getting smaller. We can hardly pay pastor much less help anyone else. We have few young people. No money to pay staff salaries. Our volunteers are faithful but old and tired. What are we to do?”
In 2013, pastor and popular blogger Carey Nieuwhof said everywhere he goes he hears the same thing, “People who attend church are attending less often.” A bit later Thom Rainer, Southern Baptist author and president of Lifeway Christian Resources, called this trend the “number one reason for the decline in church attendance.” And earlier this year consultant Will Mancini called this pattern “the most important trend of church trends in 2015.” – Lovett Weems, “Leading Ideas”
People who attend church are attending less often. No young people. No money. Small and getting smaller. What are we to do?
Jesus told a parable: “A man prepared a great feast and sent out many invitations. When all was ready, he sent his servant around to notify the guests that it was time for them to come. But they all began making excuses. One said he had just bought a field and wanted to inspect it. Another said he had just bought five pair of oxen and wanted to try them out. Another had just been married, so he said he couldn’t come.” (Luke 14:16-20)
God is inviting us, the church, to a great feast; so great, that nothing else matters. The invitations come to those we would expect to attend any great feast. The ‘good’ people of the community: land owners, shopkeepers and those described as successful and influential: the same people who would proudly claim membership to a church. In other words, God is inviting the church first.
Yet, these very people, ‘good’ people who receive gold embossed invitations from God are the same ones who are unable to attend the most important event of all time: busy purchasing land or other business necessities or busy with personal matters.
Excuses! Good excuses but excuses just the same. Wait! Don’t judge them too quickly. Remember the excuses given by our own church leaders? “We are so small. We have very few young people. We have no money. Our members are old and tired.” Sound familiar?
What is God’s response?
“The servant returned and told his master what they said. His master was angry and said, ‘Go quickly into the streets and alleys of the city and invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.’ After the servant had done this, he reported, ‘there is still room for more.’ So his master said, ‘Go out into the country lanes and behind the hedges and urge anyone you find to come, so that the house will be full. For none of those I invited first will get even the smallest taste of what I had prepared for them.'” (Luke 14:21-24)
We receive an invitation to God’s feast and we are expected to respond. If we don’t, the implication is that God will invite others and we will miss out.
But how are we to respond when we are so limited? What does God expect?
The ‘feast’ describes God’s invitation to be the church in a big way. Our response should be to say ‘yes’ with total faith knowing that serving God is more important than our occupation, our family or even our very lives. We say yes and trust God for answers, resources and courage to enable us to do far more than we ever imagined possible.
Mark Batterson in his book “All In” puts it this way: “What risk do you need to take? What sacrifice do you need to make? At some point you will feel the Holy Spirit prompting you to act decisively. Don’t ignore it. Obey it.”
Can it really be that simple?
Yes and No.
More of “God’s Invitation” next week.