If you haven’t been around Mundelein’s downtown lately, you might be surprised by the number of new housing units going up there. It’s hard to say just how many different projects are going on, but you can bet that they will soon likely be home to hundreds of new neighbors – and that’s just a small portion of those being built at the village’s outskirts. It seems that the ‘well-kept secret’ of Mundelein being one of the most liveable and affordable suburbs of Chicagoland is out of the bag! New life, new people, and the change that comes with them is headed our way, ready or not.
We may be tempted to see these newcomers as an answer to our prayers – exactly what we need at a time when worship attendance is down and budgets are strained; I know I am. As followers of Jesus, we know that he founded the Church not in order to serve its own interests, but to serve the deepest needs of God’s children. Instead of thinking about what a potential newcomer can offer us, we need to consciously prioritize in our hearts and minds what we can offer them.
Though I offer no substantive proof, I do not consider it a coincidence that there is a reported ‘loneliness epidemic’ at the same time church attendance in the U.S. is hitting all-time lows and a record number of our fellow citizens no longer identify as people of a particular faith. I do not blame them, most of them have experienced the church (if they’ve experienced it at all) as a place that takes and takes while giving them little in return – much like a bad partnership. Sadly, the Church in much of the developed world has lost its servant heart and its unconditional welcome. In doing so, it has lost the Gospel. It has thrown out Jesus while venerating the bathwater. No, I don’t blame people for avoiding that experience at all. I would, too.
I’m a little biased, but I firmly believe CPC is different. I’ve seen with my own eyes the joyful and unconditional welcome with which you greet strangers of all walks of life. Many who come to visit report to me how ‘at home’ they feel among us and in our sanctuary and I’ve witnessed friendships bloom along lines that would never have crossed if it were not for our oneness in Christ Jesus. THAT is what I want to share; what we’re called to share even to the ends of the earth: the living, breathing Gospel of Christ, crucified, resurrected, and alive forevermore.
I’m convinced that this message still works. We should expect the Holy Spirit to be at work, making hearts receptive and drawing all people toward God’s light. To reach a growing number of folks who have no church experience, we will need to be particularly conscious of what might present barriers to entry (real or perceived), and how to better help new members integrate into the congregation, and help them find direction and fulfillment in their own spiritual journey.
In all of our evangelism, we would do well to remember that we’re working for God’s glory (not ours), we won’t be the right fit for everyone, and that quality of discipleship is more important for a small congregation like ours than is quantity. Two or three new people or families can make a huge difference in all of our lives. Ready or not, here they come!