My favorite magazine is called

Recently, they published their fourth annual Outreach Resource of
the Year Award. This year’s winner: Bill Hybels’ book
Just Walk Across the Room

Why I love Bill Hybels

I quote Bill Hybels occasionally and occasionally someone
has come up to me afterwards and said, "I appreciated
everything you had to say except one thing. You quoted Bill
Hybels. I was a part of a church once and the pastor went to
Willowcreek and came home and terrible things happened."

I don’t doubt that it is true. I just doubt that it is Bill
Hybels’s fault. I think it is a little unfair to blame Bill
Hybels for every bad thing that someone who comes home from
a Willowcreek conference does.

But still, I am not a fan of Bill Hybels for the reasons
most people are, or the reason you might think. I am not
actually a big fan of the seeker service or the Willowcreek
model of doing church. Although, most churches would do well
to listen and learn a bit. The longer I live the more I
realize that is just not who I am. I am more about more or
less traditional churches with traditional Sunday Schools. I
believe the solution for church, generally speaking, is not
to do things differently, but to do things better.

I am not a fan of Bill Hybels because I am so much into his
philosophy of ministry. I read his books and listen to his
messages because I appreciate his heart. It seems to me he
just loves God and is deeply committed to the cause of
advancing God’s kingdom no matter what it takes.

It is Hybels’s passion, not his program that excites me.

In Hybels’s award winning book, Just Walk Across the
Hybels has a chapter on what he calls a Matthew
party. The Matthew party has been taught and practiced at
Willowcreek for a decade or more. It is a core part of what has
enabled Willowcreek to reach 20,000 or so people for Christ. It is
precisely what I mean by "Giving Friday Nights to Jesus."

The First Matthew Party

When I preach on giving Friday Nights to Jesus I always start
with this text.

[27] After this, Jesus went out and saw a tax
collector by the name of Levi sitting at his tax booth. "Follow me,"
Jesus said to him, [28] and Levi got up, left everything and
followed him. [29] Then Levi held a great banquet for Jesus at his
house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating
with them. [30] But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who
belonged to their sect complained to his disciples, "Why do you eat
and drink with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?" [31] Jesus answered
them, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. [32] I
have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance."
Luke 5:27-32 [NIV]

There is within the heart of everyone who has been touched by
grace an inclination that says, "I have got to tell someone!" In a
way it is a spiritual inclination, in a way it is just a human
inclination. Whether we enjoy the birth of a new grandbaby or the
opening of a new Barnes and Noble, when good news comes our way, we
tend to want to tells someone.

As we grow in Christ, we realize this is not just a spontaneous
inclination, but also a moral obligation. Paul spoke of the fact
that we are debtors to those who do not yet know the good news.

Still, many of us feel this inclination, but we struggle to tell.
We push ourselves. We feel guilty. We take some training. We try to
do better. We do a little bit better. But, we don’t do all that
well. Most Christians–I read somewhere around 90%–struggle with

Bill Hybels points out that he believes Levi (also called
Matthew) struggled with this. Between verses 28 and 29, he imagines
Levi is wondering, "How can I get this message about Jesus to those
guys at the I.R.S. office?" Perhaps he thinks about passing out
tracts, or inviting them to the temple, or getting a box and
standing on it and saying, "Hear ye! Hear ye!" But, he is not
really a box kind of guy and he doesn’t think the crowd at the tax
office will respond to the box approach.

We are not sure what Levi thought about, but we do know what he
came up with.

Levi threw a party.

Levi threw a party. He invited Jesus and his disciples. He
invited those who didn’t know about Jesus from work. You get the
impression that many of them became followers of Jesus because Levi
held a party.

How to make a party work

Start with something you like to do

I have had several people ask me over the years, "What kind of
party should I throw?" My answer is, "How should I know?" Do
whatever it is you like to do. If you like to watch movies, do a
dinner and a movie night. If you like to play games, do a game
night. If you like to go to sporting events, go to sporting events.
Start with what you like to do.

Invite more people than you expect to come

This last Friday night we had a Sunday School party at our house.
I emailed the church office to get some names of prospects to
invite. I called all of them. None of them came. I can explain why.
In fact, I could have predicted it might happen.

The problem was, I didn’t get enough names. I only got two. And
of the two, one was disconnected and one was a wrong number. Not
hard to predict we wouldn’t be seeing many prospects at our party.
Still, we had a nice time and it built the groupness of the group.
It is a good thing for families to spend time together. It is a good
thing for couples to spend time together. And, it is a good thing
for groups to spend time together.

But, it was also a good reminder to me that if you want to get a
group, get a longer, rather than shorter invitation list.

One of the hidden benefits of giving Friday Nights to Jesus is
just at this point. Even the people who don’t come are usually glad
you asked. You do some good even for those who do show up.

Invite people more than once

I have found that often time people will not respond till the
third, fourth, sixth or tenth invitation. Keep inviting. Keep
calling. Keep emailing.

This is how God treats us and it is how we ought to treat others.
God worked with some of us over a long period of time before we
responded. We need to be prepared to work with people over a long
period of time.

This is another hidden benefit of giving Friday nights to Jesus.
You can invite people to a different event every month for a year and
it doesn’t get old. If you visit them or call them and invite them
to class once a month, it soon gets awkward. But, if you invite them
to a different party every month, that is not awkward, that is just

Pay attention to them

It is not enough to invite them, you have to be nice to them. You
have to talk to them. You have to pay attention to them.

Mark Twain tells the story of a soldier who stumbled across one
of his comrades. The fallen soldier begged the man, "I have lost my
leg. Help me get to the back." He helped him up and, with arms on
shoulders they stumbled away from the front line toward help. The
battle was thick. Bullets and canon balls were flying everywhere.
One of them hit the fallen soldier, decapitating him. There was so
much noise and commotion that the other soldier didn’t notice. He
just kept carrying him toward help. An officer saw him, and asked,
"Why are you carrying this corpse out of harms way? He is dead." "No
he not, he just lost his leg." "Lost his leg, great day, man, look
at him!" "Well, he told me he lost his leg."

Sometimes we just are not paying attention. It is not enough to
invite them, you have to pay attention to them. You have to be nice
to them.


Bill Hybels and I don’t agree on everything. We do agree on this:
a Matthew party (his words) or Giving Friday Nights to Jesus (my
words) is a great way to reach people for Christ.

And, lest you think giving Friday Nights to Jesus is just a fluke
of an idea dreamed up by some guy from New Mexico, consider this: it
is essentially the same idea that Bill Hybels has used as a core
philosophy of Willowcreek and Outreach magazine calls the resource
of the year. Perhaps it is time you gave Friday nights to Jesus a