From the Gospel according to John:
The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus.
(From the Daily Office Lectionary – John 1:35-36 (NRSV) – February 15, 2013.)
Could it get any simpler? “Look, here is Jesus.” The proclamation of the Good News, the invitation into personal relationship with our Incarnate God, the revelation of what it is to be truly human . . . whatever you want to call it (we’ll steer clear for the moment from the word “evangelism”), it can’t get any simpler than this: “Look, here he is.”
That’s really all the Baptizer is doing. He’s inviting his friends to consider this Jesus whom he, John, has found to be a compelling figure. It’s a simple invitation.
Almost thirty years ago I read the book The Inviting Church by Roy Oswald and Speed Leas (Alban Institute 1987). In fact, I still have two or three copies of it on my office shelves. Right there on page 44 are these statistics about what attracts visitors to churches:
2% by Advertisement
6% by the Pastoral Invitation
6% by organized evangelism campaign
86% by friends or relatives
Guess what? Those statistics still hold true today. Over these three decades they have been confirmed again and again. The personal invitation, “Look, here he is,” is by far the most effective way the message of the Gospel spreads and the church grows.
The sadder statistic, also reported by Oswald and Leas and also still true today, is that half of church members have never invited anyone to church . . . ever. About a third have invited one person sometime during their lives. Fewer than 20% have made more than one invitation.
“What is the mission of the Church?” asks the Catechism in the Book of Common Prayer. The answer is simple: “The mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.” This mission, says the Catechism, is carried out “through the ministry of all its members.” (Emphasis mine.) The Catechism then teaches us that the ministers of the church are “lay persons, bishops, priests, and deacons.” That’s an awfully wordy way to say “all of us.”
The ministry of the laity, we are taught, is first and foremost “to represent Christ and his Church [and] to bear witness to him wherever they may be.” That’s really the ministry of all orders (lay or ordained), the ministry of every church member. There is no better example of bearing witness to Christ than the one given by the Baptizer in today’s lesson: “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” It’s really just that simple.
That so few do it speaks not of them as persons, but of the church corporately. Instead of asking (as so many clergy do) why people do not invite others, perhaps we should consider why people do invite friends to places or events. What encourages people to issue invitations? Basically, I think that we invite people we value to share with us in the things and communities we value, in the things and events that bring us joy. We invite people into that which is important to us.
And doesn’t that, especially for church leadership during this Lenten season, raise even more questions, more troubling questions, than it answers?
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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.