Bet I got your attention.
I know what you are thinking. Marty, we’ve invested a considerable amount of time and resources into becoming a welcoming church. And what’s more, we have succeeded. We’ve developed welcoming church environments, we trained greeters and ushers, we wear name tags, we percolate coffee, we benchmarked other churches on hospitality. We have some of the friendliest people on the Emerald Coast. Yes, I get all that, but I still think we need to change our emphasis.
I want Northstar to be an inviting church along with being a welcoming church. Our church DNA includes being a welcoming church, but we also need to focus on being a inviting church. There is a subtle yet important difference between the two. Welcoming is passive and suggests waiting for visitors to drop by. When they do, we treat them very well and do everything possible to make them comfortable. And if they are far from the heart of God, we will do whatever we can to bring them to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. And hopefully they will be willing to come back the next Sunday.
“Inviting,” however, is different. That means we leave the comfort of our church home-court advantage to help the community find and follow Jesus. The main activity doesn’t happen in our worship space when people drop in, but in the neighborhood when we go out. It isn’t so much welcoming them into our place, but going out into their place and meeting them there. That is the way to help the whole world find and follow Jesus.
It starts with who God has called us to be as church. It involves discovering our gifts and purpose. And it mandates joining God at work in the world. This isn’t about getting the world into God’s church; it’s about getting the church into God’s world. For example, our grocery buy-down event a few weeks back.
If you have attended Northstar for any time you have heard me explain our mission, to help the whole world find and follow Jesus. Everything comes from that—including the identity of the church. We exist as church only because God has a mission. God is at work in the world, and creates, calls, and equips the church specifically for that work.
So when in conversation over the backyard fence about their pain in losing a loved one, it would be natural to tell them about our Pastoral Care Program that has made such a difference for many others. When in the employee lunch room chatting about the pressures of our jobs, it would seem fit to invite that co-worker to tell them how you deal with those same issues. When sharing the struggles of parenthood with a friend while waiting for your kids to come out of school, it would make sense to invite their whole family to experience the KIDs programs at Northstar. While paying for a car repair, your long-time mechanic lets slip that she has lost her faith, it would easily flow for you to invite her to join you in worship this Sunday or to participate in your Northstar Group.
Once we invite them to visit Northstar and they agree to see what our church environments are like, then we can make them feel welcome and part of the family.
Next: Part 2 of Northstar is no longer a welcoming church