My life was forever changed when we had a couple over to play games one Friday night. We laughed, we played, we enjoyed some homemade coffee cake. Just a normal night of game playing, Diet Coke and coffee cake from one perspective.
From another perspective a night that would change everything. A night that would change forever.
The couple we entertained in our home that Friday night had visited our church the previous Sunday. Like a lot of churches we had quite a few visitors, but not many of them stayed around. As I explain in You Can Double Your Church in Five Years or Less we had a high magnet factor (how many visitors the church attracts) and a low velcro factor (how many visitors join).
We had been in the habit of having some friends over on a Friday night. This was not part of some global strategy to win the world to Jesus, although it has turned into one.
Somewhere along the line I had picked up on the fact that, all things being equal, the quicker you contact Sunday morning visitors the more effective the contact. Monday is better than Tuesday. Tuesday is better than Wednesday. And, if you wait three weeks before calling them it is almost impossible to persuade people that you are really glad they came. So, following this line of thought, I made my calls on Sunday afternoon–the quicker the better.
So, I called this particular couple and I said the same things to them that I said to other visitors I had called in the past–“How did you hear about our church? What kind of work are you in? How long have you lived here? What kind of churches have you attended in the past?” and so forth. I have some introvert in me and so it helps me to have a few questions prepared to keep the conversation going. Then, I said these magic words, “We are going to have some friends over to our home this Friday night, and we were wondering if you might like to join us. It will be an informal thing, no big program or event. We are just going to hang out, have Diet Coke, coffee cake and play some cards.” To my surprise and delight, he said, “Sure. Sounds fun. Can we bring something?” “Key lime pie is what I am feeling, if you are taking requests!” (I don’t actually say that about the key lime pie, but I will let them bring something.)
That Friday night our new friends showed up. We did not get out a flip chart and go over sixteen reasons to believe in the existence of God. We did not have a PowerPoint prepared on common objections to the gospel and answers to each one of those objections. We just hung out, had Diet Coke, played table games and enjoyed some coffee cake.
I might add that during the eleven years I served on staff as the minister of education in the church we were attending at this time, we enjoyed eleven consecutive years of growth. We grew from one service and one Sunday School to four services and four Sunday Schools, including a Saturday night service and “Sunday School.” The group that came to our home on Friday nights attended the Saturday night service and “Sunday School.” (We didn’t actually call it Sunday School since it met on Saturday night.)
The Saturday night after enjoying a night of fun and fellowship in our home on Friday, that couple were in church. Not only did they come to church, they stayed for the Bible study that followed. We were on our way to becoming friends. That one night made all the difference.
They came back the next week and the next and the next and the next. In virtually every church service I have been in, whether the pastor is preaching on how to win over worry, how to raise your kids, or how to pray, it is a common thing that the pastor will explain, in a brief way, how to become a Christian. So, over the next several weeks, this couple heard the gospel message not one time, but several times. About a month later, they placed their faith in Christ. I had the privilege of baptizing both of them.
We had another couple over and they joined the church. We had another couple over and they joined the church. We had another couple over and they joined the church.
To be fair, only about a fourth of these were coming placing their faith in Christ. The rest were coming as Baptists who had moved to town from Alabama. One parenthetical note: some people who do what I do come close to saying that there is no redeeming value in reaching Baptists who move to town from Alabama. I take a contrarian viewpoint. I think it is a good thing to reach Baptists who move to town from Alabama. I think God loves Baptists who move to town from Alabama. I think God wants Baptists who move to town from Alabama in church and growing as disciples. It is a good thing. We ought to pay some attention to whether they are the only people we are reaching, but it is a good thing to reach them. I have been in some fat, happy churches in the South that are growing by 15% a year, yet baptize half the national average for their size of church. You can do this by just reaching Baptists who move to town from Alabama. (A good rule of thumb is this: the average church baptizes 10% of the attendance each year. Try to be above average.)
After six months of inviting church visitors into our home on Friday nights, I decided to do some research. I discovered forty-three couples had visited our church who would have been prospects for this particular Saturday night Bible study class. Of these forty-three, we had entertained ten in our home. Thirty-three we did not have into our home. We did this every couple of weeks and all you can do is all you can do. Of the thirty-three we did not have in our home, three joined the church.
Josh Hunt. Christian Hospitality.