The fear was mixed with conviction. Loving our neighbors is God’s second most important command given in the Old Testament law and affirmed by Jesus in Mark 12:31. If the people who live near our meeting place aren’t neighbors, then who is? If sharing our eternal hope in Christ isn’t love, what is?
But I have a lot of practice coming up with excuses to stick with what’s easy and avoid the discomforts, real or anticipated, of reaching out.
So when our Growth Group was invited to participate in the third outreach day, I knew this was an opportunity. It was a training-wheels session to break through that fleshly crust of fear and obey God.
A big goal in small chunks
Faith in Five is a simple goal that everyone who lives near our church building will know about our congregation and about the Gospel of Jesus we proclaim. This means contacting everyone who could drive to Faith Bible Church from their homes within five minutes — a project the elders expected could take five years, since about 40,000 people live within that radius.
“We’re all being encouraged to be more bold and more proactive in sharing the Gospel.”Nathan Thiry
Nathan Thiry, the outreach pastor who has spearheaded the planning and execution of Faith in Five, reported that about 1,000 households were contacted in the first two outreach Sundays. This spring’s outreaches are kind of a test, and Nathan figures from the results so far that if each discipling group participates twice a year – spring and fall, for example – the canvassing effort would be complete in three years.
As exciting as that sounds, Nathan is just as excited about the work God will do within our hearts as a church: “We’re all being encouraged to be more bold and more proactive in sharing the Gospel.”
As someone who needs that encouragement, it was good to hear reports from the groups who went out first. They came back with mostly positive stories about people’s openness to talking about church and spiritual things.
And a handful of people have already come to services because they were invited! One neighbor told Nathan when he knocked that she just moved in and was hoping to find a church. She came the very next Sunday, and Nathan was able to introduce her to a few other women to welcome her.
Who knows how God will continue to work through the Gospel these neighbors will hear when they come in the doors?
Everyone who was available from my group showed up for the outreach. Just seeing “my people” coming in with a smile was a big boost. They knew even less than I did about the details, but they were ready to obey God and love our neighbors.
In contrast to my fears and excuses, the task really was simple and achievable: Just knock on people’s doors, invite them to come to church, offer to pray for them. If they didn’t answer, just leave the doorhanger with basic information about Faith.
“We saw up close some of the stark needs we drive by to get to church.”
As assigned, a group of three of us went to one of the apartment complexes near the church and began knocking on doors. The whole feel of the apartment buildings was eye-opening. Humble living conditions aren’t necessarily an indicator of spiritual darkness, but we saw up close some of the stark needs we drive by to get to church.
A little less than half of the doors were opened. Most of those were opened only a few inches – some to hold back pets, but others clearly wary of strangers. It struck me that, like some say about spiders, they were more afraid of us than we were of them!
There was a wide range of responses. One talkative woman told us all about another church she attends. One child said his mom had been wanting to go to church. A woman who recently got out of the hospital said “I’ve already done that” when we offered to pray for her. One man said, “We’re good, sir,” politely but firmly refusing a flyer.
One gentleman came rushing out of his apartment before we could knock. He was emotional and said he couldn’t stop because he was heading out to help a woman who was possibly suffering a drug overdose. We didn’t have time to give him a doorhanger, but as he left he actually asked us to pray. Our trio stopped and prayed together for the man and for the woman he was helping.
In all, we went to 29 apartments in about an hour. Ten other groups of 2-3 also went out that day, reaching almost 500 households in total. We can certainly cover a lot of ground this way; maybe that’s why Jesus sent his disciples out in groups of two in Mark 6 and Luke 10.
I don’t have glorious stories of miraculous conversations to share. Our experience was nothing spectacular, but God was still working. Here are a few takeaways that I hope will encourage other scaredy cats taking part in Faith in Five.
“Whether they realize it or not, our neighbors need the sense of meaning we have every day from knowing Christ and from being connected into His body.”
My fears were not realized. There might be a few people out there who would be dangerous or unpleasant to deal with, but we didn’t meet any. No one was unkind to us. As far as having the right words to say: I’m sure I said a few dumb things, but that’s where going with other people was key. They had words when I didn’t.
We were either asked or allowed to pray for several people. Many of their faces are etched on my mind for continued prayer. God will answer those prayers to bless our neighbors — and us! He may answer in such a way that shows them (and us) He is real, He is present, and He deserves their worship.
Finally, the Lord blessed our Growth Group through serving together. When we returned, everyone was eager to share about what had happened and the people they met. Working together for the Gospel, even in a small thing like this, gave us joy that was stronger for being shared. While we are called to reach out individually, it was a privilege to do outreach together.
Jesus gave a “new” but very similar commandment in John 13:34-35, “Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
For ten years, I have seen and felt this love at work in Faith Bible Church. But our love for each other is not for our own sakes; it is for “all people.” Whether they realize it or not, our neighbors need the sense of meaning we have every day from knowing Christ and from being connected into His body. They need the encouragement that I sometimes take for granted because at Faith I am surrounded by loving people who share God’s Word with me through their words and lives.