The Tentative Evangelist
August 7, 2013
Several months ago, I began attending a wonderful church. Within a short period of time, it has truly become one of the grounding forces in my life which is as surprising as it is beautiful because I never thought I'd feel comfortable in a church again after years of ultra-conservative Christian indoctrination. My new church is progressive, radically inclusive, filled-to-the-brim with the warmest parishioners, and led by gifted and holy pastors.
There's one problem, though: I want to share my new love with the world, but I'm not sure how. That is, I'd like to invite my friends to church because I think many would love it as much as I do, but I don't want to go about it in an overbearing way and make them uncomfortable.
I'm a well-educated, liberal, queer New Englander in my early twenties, and many of my friends share those qualities. Almost none of them attend church regularly and whenever I make the casual comment about wanting to go to a church event later in the day, they either smirk or look at me with utter amazement: "Church?!"
I get it. I used to deride all-things-religion, too. The two Catholic/Fundamentalist Christian churches I grew up in were bastions of racism, homophobia, misogyny, and anti-science dogma. The priest and pastor, respectively, preached hatred from the pulpit unabashedly, even going so far as to advocate violence. I get why smart, liberal people my age are suspicious of Christian churches. Even the question "Are you going to church today?" used to be triggering to me and would send me into a panic when I was younger. I never ever want to make someone feel that way.
I do, however, want to invite the friends I love so much to meet my church family because I think my friends may find comfort and spiritual healing in that space. I also feel it's my responsibility as a member of my church (and as a Christian) to build my beloved community. How do I invite my friends to church in a tactful and non-threatening way?
The Tentative Evangelist
You are the best advertisement for the UCC a Theo could dream of: young, smart, groovy, spiritual AND religious! Believe me, your friends, if they are not totally asleep at the wheel of their lives, are paying attention. They are curious. They may even be waiting for you to casually invite them to church so they can reject you the first two times. Ask a third.
It might help if you invite them in this way:
• Acknowledge the harm many churches have done in the name of God. Then ask them if they rejected education wholesale after a bad experience with one terrible teacher, or health care if they got a doctor with a bad bedside manner. Ask them to suspend judgment—just this once, because they trust you, if not Church—and take a risk.
• Offer a brief story about a concrete way this church has helped your everyday life: lay the trail of bread crumbs. Then let your joy speak for itself.
• Bribe them with brunch.
And if those are not enough bullets, try these babies out on them, from the marvelous Rev. Anne Russ of Argenta Presbyterian Church:
Ten Reasons Why You Should Be Going to Church
I've just seen one too many articles on why people aren't coming to church. Admittedly, there are some good reasons. But I'd like to share my top 10 reasons why you should be coming to church. Others will have different reasons and some may disagree with the ones I have listed, but here they are.
10. Coming to church doesn't mean you have no doubts about God or faith or religion. It means you have a place you can share with people who have their own doubts.
9. Bad stuff is going to happen in your life. It just is. A church community cannot be everything to everyone in times of crisis, but when the bottom falls out of your world, it's great to have a community to lift you back up.
8. Bad stuff is going to happen in your life, part two. The time to build a relationship with God is not when life turns ugly, and you've run out of all other options. Attending worship regularly helps build a relationship with God and others that will give you a solid foundation when the winds blow and the storms come.
7. Not all churches are anti-something. Most of us are for people, for acceptance, for hospitality. Really, we're out there. We just don't get the good press.
6. Any church worth its salt has really good food on a regular basis.
5. Churches offer paint-by-number opportunities to serve. Many people would like to help the poor, the hungry and the homeless, but they don't know how to get involved, how to make the time to be involved, or what they can do to really make a difference. Churches offer you ways to plug in to help those who need it most.
4. You've got a gift. Probably two or 10 of them. Becoming involved in the ministry of a church will help you discover and use gifts you never even knew you had.
3. Not all churches are after your money. Good churches want you have a healthy relationship with money. Sure, churches need to pay the electric bill and the pastor and the youth director, but money and the church is more about you than it is about the church. It's about your own relationship with money. World events have proven that it's much better to put faith in God than in a bank account. Church can help you with that.
2. Taking a break from our hectic lives to come to church is accepting the gift of Sabbath. Wayne Mueller says “(Sabbath) dissolves the artificial urgency of our days, because it liberates us from the need to be finished.” We don't take Sabbath and come to worship because we have time and have finished up everything that needs to be done. We take Sabbath because it is time to stop, and we are designed to stop, rest and reflect. Those don't are destined to crash and burn.
1. Jesus is really cool. Even if you don't know if you can believe in the whole Son-of-God thing, even if you refer to the resurrection as the Zombie Jesus event and even though those of us already in church often do a lousy job of following him, come to church to get to know Jesus. The more you get to know him, the more you'll understand why people call his way The Way.
Bless you, and may you be a blessing,
Who is Theo?
"Dear Theo" is written anonymously by three UCC ministers of different ages and backgrounds - one main writer and two respite writers. We're hoping the questions will span all kinds of topics: from sexuality and relationships to church culture and conflict to mental health, family drama, ethical and moral dilemmas, and everything in between.
Every week will feature a new letter and a new answer. Please write Dear Theo with your questions and problems by sending to firstname.lastname@example.org. Letter writers identities will also ALWAYS remain anonymous.