Last week I was on the train home from London. For most of my journey I shared a table with a lovely lady who like me had rushed to get the earlier train and had been to the city for the day. She had been to see a NHS specialist and was pleased with her trip, but glad to be on her way home. She was widowed and now lived on her own, and as she got off the train to be met by a friend we exchanged pleasantries after our 3 hour journey together. As she departed, in her place opposite my seat, came on three young mothers and a group of 5 or 6 small children, sand buckets and spades in hand and full of excitement and energy. They told me they had been out for a fun day on their favourite beach. For the next 20 minutes or so the journey was chaotic as the smallest child ran up and down and the older ones demanded the last of the party’s snacks.
We face the challenge in our churches of reaching out to, of engaging and relating to each of these generations and everything in between. How do we connect to those outside the church?
For we are not simply a club, based around a common activity with like-minded individuals, but members of the church, the body of Christ, the kingdom of God, with the purpose of reaching the world with the message of Jesus’s saving love. We are called to spread the word, share the good news. We are called to make disciples and care for one another.
Fortunately we already have the tools and the gifts to make this a reality. As we were reminded a few weeks ago at Pentecost, when Peter stood up and spoke to the crowd in Jerusalem and quoted from Joel:
‘In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your young men will see visions,
your old men will dream dreams.
18 Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days
It wasn’t just the apostles who received the Holy Spirit, or even the gathering of disciples but the Spirit was promised for all the people, men and women, young and old, rich and poor…
In the cities, towns and villages where we live, there are homes of every size, people who have lived there all their long lives, people who have moved there to retire, like the lady I met on the train, families, children and teenagers, like the young families from the beach. Our message is for them all.
Those of us who go to church have made a connection to faith, to God, to one another. The gospel is not irrelevant as we know, our faith matters and helps us in our daily lives. When Jesus started his ministry he went into the synagogue in Nazareth and read
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.
We have that same Spirit, we have the same purpose. As we know through our own experiences, God cares and loves us. To connect with those outside the church we simply need to provide opportunities for them to see the difference that our faith has made and is making in our lives – find the right steps to get them involved so they can see how faith matters for them too. Each one of us can make a difference – every member a part of the mission team building the church, gathering together on Sunday mornings to worship and working together to reach others.
So we can have confidence in our place to share this with each other and with those we meet, live, work and socialise with.
We can have confidence that when we reach out practically to the towns and villages around us, we will touch people’s lives and our church congregations will grow. As we dream in the spirit together we will see the Vision for our communities. We can bring help, hope and healing into those around us. This is about us worshipping together, and working together: – all of us have our part to play, we all share the same spirit and God wants to value us all. If we start with this intention of growth in mission, we will see the results in our churches, and we will make a real difference in real lives in our community.