During the last few years, I have noticed that an increasing number of Lutherans who are well-versed in evangelism are suggesting that worship may not be the most appropriate event to invite prospective members to attend - at least at first. They suggest instead that since our services tend to be fairly complicated to follow and nonmembers may have difficulty understanding the reasons behind the Church’s practice of closed communion that it may make more sense to invite inquirers to attend a Bible class, service event, or fellowship gathering before inviting them to a worship service. They explain that after the person has had the opportunity to connect with the congregation in some way and the person inviting them has had an opportunity to prepare them for what to expect in worship, then it is a good idea to invite them to attend worship. Their reasoning makes a lot of sense to me and I completely get what they are saying, however, if this is the case - the Lutheran churches are in trouble.
Most of our members (not just at St. John’s) do not attend Bible classes and other events in addition to Sunday morning worship. People are not going to invite others to attend events with them when they themselves do not attend. While I would love to engage more of our members in attending Bible classes, etc. - for their own sake and for the sake of those whom they may invite - I am not convinced that we can compete with the other demands on people’s time.
Instead, I suggest that we give serious thought over time to how our worship services can become more effective entry-points for those who do not believe in Jesus. You may have noticed in the bulletin over the last couple of months that “Sanctus” has been replaced by “Holy, Holy, Holy,” “hymn” has been replaced by “song,” and “sermon” has been replaced by “message.” Changing the names of the parts of the service isn’t going to bring in the masses, but at least we are trying to make the order of service more intelligible to those who have not grown up in the church. We have started livestreaming our service on Facebook. Members can share the link to the video any time after the service with their friends and ask them to take a look. Better yet, members can invite their friends to watch the service with them and explain what is happening and why. This is a great way to prepare someone to attend worship with us. In this way, it will be more familiar to them when they attend in person.
Additionally, when a visitor attends worship with us, I invite those members sitting closest in proximity to them to thank them for coming and to show them that by placing their bulletin in the back of the servicebook that the order of worship is visible to them even when the book is open. This little hint can be of great value to a first-time visitor. You may want to ask if you may sit next to them in order to help them through the first time. It is helpful for our members to express their love for our worship and at the same time acknowledging that it can be a bit tricky the first or second time through. There are many things which we can do to assist visitors in feeling at home here at St. John’s. It is a challenge for us to balance making our service both accessible to visitors and maintaining the depth of meaning which has sustained the faithful through the ages. The One Who calls us to this challenge is the One Who strengthens and guides us by His Spirit.