Thoughts of a messed up Christian saved by God's grace

Monday, June 24, 2013

The lies I have believed

  The more I work to change my thinking, the more and more lies I realize I have believed over the years. Its hard to change what you've believed all your life, but I'm working on it.

1) I am worthless
2) No one really likes me. The ones who seem to are just acting or being nice
3) I am stupid and not good at anything
4) God doesn't love me. He forgives me only because He said He would
5) When I mess up, or walk away, I have to beg God to forgive me, He needs convinced to take me back
6) No matter how hard I try, no matter how many rules I keep, prayers I pray, I will still miss Heaven, because I can never be good enough to make it
7) If I ever attain the level of being a Christian that I need to be, God will make me give up anything I enjoy
8) Pleasing people is more important than God
9) I can never get true victory over some issues in my life
10) I am a failure
11) Christianity is a bunch of rules, do's and don'ts
12) I have to do everything my church says to be a Christian

   Those are the main ones, though there are others. It is true that the devil knows where we are weak and fights us in that area. He capitalizes on things and makes them bigger and blows them out of proportion.

  When I really examine my beliefs, my thinking, it doesn't make sense. For instance, of all the people that live and have ever lived, I'm the only one God doesn't love? And how can I believe the judgment parts of the Bible so much, yet not the parts about God loving me?

  One of my favorite songs by my favorite group, The Booth Brothers, is a song titled "When He Saved Me." There is a line that seemed a foreign concept to me for the longest time: "I see Him excited to forgive us." Excited? I always felt I had to beg Him to do it, and He did it grudgingly. As I stated in a previous blog post, there were multiple things that affected me, that set me up to believe these lies: poor self esteem, bullying by my peers, preachers, and possibly more things I am not aware of.

  Its sad I have made it to my 40's without resolving these issues, that I have tried for so long to serve a God like I have tried to serve. I long to serve a God who loves me, who is "excited" to forgive, who runs to meet those who walk away from Him. I'm slowly getting there, but it is taking throwing out a lot of "stuff", of realizing I have had it so wrong for so long, and that it only matters what God thinks of me, not people.

  God does love me. Maybe I need to hang that all over the place so I see it several times a day. He loves me far more than any human could ever get close to. And I am learning that He expects far less out of me than my church and fellow Christians expect.

   I want to serve God because He loves me, and I love Him. Forget duty and expectations of other people. It is a relationship, not a "get out of hell free" card. But sadly, that is what it has been for most of my life. I want, and need it to be more. More than duty, more than rules and regulations, more than pleasing people, more than going through the motions.

Motions by Matthew West

This might hurt, it's not safe
But I know that I've gotta make a change
I don't care if I break
At least I'll be feeling something

‘Cause just okay is not enough
Help me fight through the nothingness of life

I don't wanna go through the motions
I don't wanna go one more day
Without Your all consuming passion inside of me

I don't wanna spend my whole life asking
What if I had given everything
Instead of going through the motions?

No regrets, not this time
I'm gonna let my heart defeat my mind
Let Your love make me whole
I think I'm finally feeling something

‘Cause just okay is not enough
Help me fight through the nothingness of this life

‘Cause I don't wanna go through the motions
I don't wanna go one more day
Without your all consuming passion inside of me

I don't wanna spend my whole life asking
What if I had given everything
Instead of going through the motions?

Take me all the way
(Take me all the way)
Take me all the way
(‘Cause I don't wanna go through the motions)

Take me all the way
(Lord, I'm finally feeling something real)
Take me all the way

I don't wanna go through the motions
I don't wanna go one more day
Without Your all consuming passion inside of me

I don't wanna spend my whole life asking
What if I had given everything
Instead of going through the motions?

I don't wanna go through the motions
I don't wanna go one more day
Without Your all consuming passion inside of me

I don't wanna spend my whole life asking
What if I had given everything
Instead of going through the motions?
Take me all the way
(Take me all the way)
Take me all the way
(I don't wanna go, I don't wanna go)

Take me all the way
(Through the motions)
Take me all the way

I don't wanna go through the motions


Friday, June 21, 2013

Checklist Christianity

   I recently read a book titled Firsthand:Ditching Secondhand Religion for a Faith of Your Own by Ryan & Josh Shook. I got it free for participating in a survey. The idea of the book, is that so many young people grow up and just live the faith of their parents, never getting their own, and then they fall apart when things get tough, because they are just hanging onto their parents' coat tails, so to speak.

  They briefly addressed something in the one chapter that hit home. They called it "Checklist Christianity", something I have been guilty of, and if everyone is honest, most of us have been. What is "Checklist Christianity"? It is having a mental list of things we do that make us feel we have accomplished our responsibilities as a Christian:

Read my Bible today: check
Prayed today: check
Prayed for my food in a restaurant: check
Prayed out loud for my food in a restaurant: gold star
Attended a.m. worship: check
Attended Sunday School: check
Attended every night of revival services: 2 gold stars

   Get the point? Part of it may go back to a point I addressed, or think I did, in my last blog post. We are so in bondage to people. Some of the things we do, we do because we are afraid what other church members will think of us if we don't.

We are exhausted mentally, physically, and spiritually, but what would people think if we didn't go every night of revival services, or didn't go to all the camp meeting services.

Or worse, didn't go to any camp meeting services.

They ask for volunteers to help with vacation Bible school. Your week is crazy, the to do list is endless, but what would people think if you didn't volunteer?

   Yes, we need to be in church, and yes, there are always things that need done in the church, but if we really don't have time or other resources, God will understand. And people? Who cares. Sounds crass, but really, are we trying to serve people, or God? Who is going to judge us when we get to Heaven, God, or our fellow church members?

  And I am not saying we should go to the other extreme of skipping church all the time for any piddly reason, or dodging any extra responsibility. Being a Christian isn't all about sitting on our butts and watching everyone else doing it all. There is a happy medium, and if we don't have time or other resources for one thing in the church, there are enough things that need done that we can find something.

   I have done a lot of self examination and of looking over my past, specifically my spiritual past, and I am so guilty of checklists, of doing things because its expected by other people, and of something else: comparing myself to others. Compared to so and so, I'm doing good.

  Sometimes I wish I could chuck everything I know about being a Christian, church, the do's and don'ts out the window, be given a Bible, and start over. Serving God has to be more than checking things of a list, of doing things because we are afraid of what others will think if we don't, of just doing better and looking better than the guy across the aisle at church.

  We have revival services and expect God to show up and renew us, but we hang onto our lists and never jump completely into His grace and love. And there are many who get it, but I'm afraid too many are like me: carrying our checklist around and dragging our chains with us, chains binding us to do what people expect and want, not what God wants.

  I had this thought the other day, specific to a certain area, but it covers all areas: I believe people expect more out of us than God. Maybe that is why so many of us live in bondage to other people. Want an example? OK, I'll give one: church attendance.

  The Bible says to not forsake the assembling of ourselves together. A side note: a friend pointed out that it doesn't specifically mean church, we need to be with other Christians outside of church too. But back to my point: here are the weekly services at my church:
7:00am(I think): men's morning prayer meeting
9:30am: Sunday School
10:30am: Morning worship, children's church
6:15pm: prayer service for anyone over 25 or so, children's service, and youth meeting

Jail service Sunday afternoon
Once a month: 2:00pm, rest home service

Wednesday: prayer meeting at 7:00 pm

Spring revival services, Tuesday-Sunday
Fall revival services, Tuesday-Sunday
Vacation Bible school: Monday-Friday evening, some week in June
Conference - held at our denomination camp ground, Wed-Sunday, some week in June
Youth camp, held same place, Thursday-Sunday, some week in July
Main camp, same place, 10 days some week in August
And toss in some other extra services throughout the year.

   Now there are people who go to all of those, and God bless them for it, but there is nowhere in the Bible that says how much we have to go to church. Kind of like reading the Bible. We have this idea we need to read a chapter or so many chapters a day, but I have come to believe the quantity isn't what matters. What we get out of it matters. If we read one verse, and really get it, that is better than reading 5 chapters so we can just check it off on our list. And though we should be regular in church attendance, if we are going to please others, God isn't going to be impressed.

  There were checklist Christians in Jesus' day. They were the Pharisees. They had their checklists and proudly checked them off and did everything for show. They had no love, no compassion, and helped crucify the very Son of God because He upset their empty and vain religion. If we take away our checklists, what is left?

   I'm winging it here, but I believe God has checklists too, but they are a lot different than ours. His might look like this:
Soul winning
Communion with Him

   As usual, I have rambled, typing out my thoughts as they come. I don't want anyone to read this and think I'm OK with irregular church attendance, or stopping the things I gave as examples of a check list. I just want to serve God and have a relationship with Him that isn't bound to rules and checklists. I want to do those things because I love Him and its my way of showing Him so, and as a way of getting closer to Him, if that makes sense. And you know what? If we miss a day reading our Bible, forget to pray for our food, stay home from a service to get some much needed rest..... He isn't going to toss us out on our ear.

  I'm weary of living a checklist religion. Of mentally checking off things because I feel I have to do so to be a Christian, and to look good to other Christians. I'm tired of comparing myself to others. When compared to Christ, who is who I need to compare myself with, I don't look good at all. My righteousness is as filthy rags. I want to live a life that people will see Christ in me, but also a life that isn't lived to live up to people's expectations of what I should do, of how I should act, etc. I am caring less and less about that. I don't know if it is the right word to use when talking about God, but if I impress anyone, I want to live a life that impresses Him. He is the One who will judge me at the end of my life, not anyone else, so why should I continue to live for others' expectations? Is it no wonder my religious experience has been so lacking. I have been a modern day Pharisee, and I am tired of being one, tired of pleasing people instead of God. God grant me the strength and ability to rip up my checklist and throw myself wholeheartedly into what He wants and expects. In some ways, it is far less than what people expect. But that is why its called grace.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Softly and tenderly, you're going to hell

   I've mentioned it before, but I have had a life-long battle to believe God loves me. I believe there were a few things that factored in, but one big factor was my getting picked on a lot as a kid and teenager. By the time I graduated from high school, I was firmly convinced that no one liked me, that there was something wrong with me. It was so bad, that when I went anywhere, even to a store, I felt like everyone was looking at me and disliking me on sight. I look back now and realize most people in public probably had no opinion of me at all.

  There are some other things that may factor in, but that was a biggie. Maybe it was a natural progression to believe that God felt the same way about me that I perceived everyone else did.

  It is hard to serve a God who you don't really believe loves you and cares about you and your problems. It makes it hard when things go wrong to trust Him and to keep serving Him.

  I was a very vulnerable and impressionable kid, and maybe it didn't affect others like it affected me, but growing up, I don't remember hearing a lot of messages on God's love. I don't remember preachers having an altar call and urging people to go to the altar by talking about God's love. I remember a lot of messages, particularly at camp meetings and revival services, about God's judgment.

  I remember many long, drawn out altar calls with preachers telling scary stories to get people to the altar. There were many stories about people who were in such a service as we were in who didn't go to the altar as they knew they should have, and walked out of the church only top drop dead of a heart attack or be mowed down by a bus. OK, that was an exaggeration, but you get the point. The stories had them either dying a week or so later without God, or living a full life with God never speaking to them again, never giving them another chance to serve Him.

   And then there were the ominous statements/predictions: "God has revealed it to me that there is someone sitting in this service who is having their last chance to make things right with God."

  My church, nor I, believe in once-saved, always saved. I know people who do, and their lives show they believe it, and I know people who believe it and live exemplary lives, so I am not knocking that belief. I've studied, read, and thought about it, and I still believe you can walk away from God and live a sinful life and miss Heaven after being a Christian, but I'm not here to argue theology, just stating where I am coming from.

  That said, I sat in many services, believing God was in my heart, only to have a preacher preach such a harsh message that he preached my confidence away, and I'd go to the altar to get saved again.

  I've heard preachers preach such a high standard that I grew up feeling God was just waiting for me to do something wrong so He could get His white out and remove my name from the book of life. They preached such a high standard and made it sound so hard to please God, that I felt no matter how hard I tried, I would miss Heaven in the end. Until all too recently, this is the stuff I have been dealing with.

  I developed a belief and thinking that God would only love me if..... If I did better in this area, if I went to every service the church had, if, if, if. And it was ifs that I felt I could never accomplish.

  This may not affect everyone like it has affected me, but when a person has such low self esteem as I have had, when they feel everyone dislikes them and wants nothing to do with them, including God, and then that person is subjected to sermons that are all about God's judgment, it doesn't help them believe in God's love any more.

  Now I am sure a lot of those preachers have good intentions. They wanted to see souls saved, though the cynic, jaded part of me, wonders if some of them just wanted numbers to mark on their belt. "Wow, I got 20 people to the altar tonight!" So what if they only went because the preacher scared them into going. Yeah, that sounds cynical, and I am not saying they all had that attitude. That would be judging, and we can't have that......

   From my personal experience, when a person is scared into going to the altar, it doesn't "take" anyway. I would go and pray til I felt better, not really accomplishing much. I'm sure some who are scared into going to the altar really pray through and get victory, or those who are talked into it.

  I have been in altar calls so long that we sang all the verses of "Just As I Am" through, then again, trying to talk people into doing something they should only do if they really want to, something they shouldn't need talked or scared into doing - giving their heart and life to God.

    Its kind of ironic to be singing "Softly and tenderly, Jesus is calling" while the minister tells a scary story to scare people into going to the altar, but it happened.

   I am not exaggerating the effect these "hell and brimstone" messages have had on me, they really have had me messed up. If no one else has dealt with that, then good for them.

  I've been working on changing my views of God. I know they are wrong, but that doesn't mean I can flip a switch and make the thinking go away. I've been praying, reading over and over verses about God's love, listening to songs about God's love, reading books about it.

  The best book I have read on the subject is He Loves Me by Wayne Jacobson. Interestingly, the author addresses the very issue I was talking about: preachers trying to scare people into serving God.

  Now, I know Jesus did tell a few parables about hell/missing Heaven, and I am not saying preachers shouldn't do it either, but there is a way to do it, and they should do it as a warning, not as a means of scaring people into going to the altar.

  I'll never forget one preacher I heard in a few revival meetings when I was a teenager. To set the scene, I should explain my church teaches sanctification, a second "work of grace", which is when the Holy Spirit comes in to your heart. I have a lot of questions about it myself and am not sure I believe in it as those in my church do, but that is a brief explanation. Anyway, this preacher would preach his message, then ask everyone to bow their heads and close their eyes, then it would go like this:
"I want everyone who knows they are saved and sanctified, to raise their hand"
"I want everyone who knows they are saved,  to raise their hand"
"I want everyone who is unsaved, to raise their hand"

    And woe to anyone who didn't raise their hand at all. I'll never forget one time that happened. He had that person condemned to hell forever if they didn't go to the altar. Yeah, it was about that bad. And it wasn't me :-)

   There are many who would disagree with me, and even criticize me for this, but I have made the decision to be careful who I listen to preach. I will not sit under a preacher who may bully me or scare me into going to the altar. God can deal with me without that.

  I'm thankful for my pastor. I can't see him ever scaring people to the altar. And looking back, it has mostly been evangelists in camp meetings and revival services where preachers did that, though not always. And people wonder why I don't like camp meetings.

  Yes, there is a hell to avoid, and people need to be aware of that, but if you scare people into going to the altar, they may very likely end up serving God for the same reason: fear.

  When I look at my Christian experience, I hate what I see. It has basically been a form of bondage. I have served God out of fear of going to hell. I've done this, done that, to try to tip the scale of His favor toward me, only to never accomplish that.

  Being a Christian has to be more than that. Serving God has to be more than that. To serve Him and live as He wants me to live because He loves me and I love Him, not because its a duty and I'm afraid to do otherwise.

  Too many people go with the "we are not under the law, but under grace" idea and don't seem to think Christians should be any different than sinners. I don't want that, but I want my relationship with God to be that - a relationship, not rules that I keep to stop Him from tossing me out on my ear. Christians SHOULD be different. Different in what we do, what we watch, listen to, in how we look...... though that can be taken too far..... but if we are doing it because our church says, or because we are scared God is going to not love us, it is for nothing. Serving God should be more than a "get out of hell free card"

  I think I'm starting to get it, just a bit. I have a long way to go, but am realizing how wrong I have had it. Its not all my fault, but I should have worked on the issue long ago, instead of being in my 40's and feeling I have never had a relationship with God. Oh, I'm not saying I was never a Christian.... it has just not been a relationship, but rules, fear, legalism. A religion, not an experience.

  I'm realizing I have worked more at pleasing people, than God. That I need to do what God wants, and if people don't like it, so be it. That God isn't impressed if you keep all the rules of the church, but serve Him out of fear and never plunge into His love. That God's love is so outside of, and so much more, than the measly human emotion we call love. That is is crazy to think I am the exception to the rule when the Bible says God loves us all.

  The best well known verse in the Bible is John 3:16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. A verse that is just as important follows it, and maybe these "hell and brimstone" pastors should also learn it. Verse 17 says: For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him."

   God didn't give us Jesus to condemn us. Yes, anyone who doesn't serve Him in this life will be condemned, but lets not lose that message, that God loves us, and that alone should be reason to serve Him. Why scare people into serving God? Would these preachers want to be married to a woman who was scared into marrying them? Why would God be any different?

   In closing, I don't want to give the impression that every preacher in my denomination, or similar denominations, is intent on scaring people into serving God, but I have heard all too many sermons and altar calls where that was done. And I want a relationship with God that is based on love, not fear.

   A song the Gaither Vocal Band recorded a few years back has been on my mind a lot. "Loving God, Loving Each Other." Here it is:

Loving God, loving each other,
Making music with my friends;
Loving God, loving each other,
And the music never ends.

They pushed back from the table
To listen to His words,
His secret plan before He had to go.
It's not complicated;

Don't need a lot of rules,
This is all you'll need to know.

Loving God, loving each other,
Making music with my friends;
Loving God, loving each other,
And the music never ends.

We tend to make it harder,
Build steeples out of stone,
Fill with explanations of The Way,
But if we'd stop and listen
And break a little bread,
We would hear the Master say

Loving God, loving each other,
Making music with my friends;
Loving God, loving each other,
And the music never ends.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Getting in your zone

       My best friend Steven and I chat almost every evening. Sometimes we talk about things we agree on, sometimes we totally disagree. Recently, we got on a topic we agreed on. The church, more specifically, what it is for and what it should do to reach people.

      One way to start, is by being a friendly church. I've been in churches where I felt very welcome, and been in some where I didn't feel welcome at all. I've heard people say my church is friendly, and have known of people to say it wasn't and even quit attending because they didn't think it was friendly enough. I personally think we are in the middle. We could do much better, but we could do much worse too.

     Steven recently attended church with his cousin and her husband, also friends of mine: Cindy & Russell. He was impressed with the outreach they do, and how friendly the church is. The church has several "zones". The zones are different seating sections in the church. If you are in zone #1, for example, and it is your turn to be in the rotation or whatever they call it, you are responsible to make any visitors in your "zone" feel welcome. Speak to them, say you're glad they are there, etc. I think its a great idea.

   Another church has so many loaves of bread, I think like banana breads, etc, baked for each Sunday and sends one home with visitors.

   My church has pens with the church name on it and visitor cards to fill out which are given to first time visitors. I assume the pastor follows up on the visitor at some point.

   There are some people from my church who go calling every Saturday for children's church - we have 2 buses that picks up kids, and occasionally adults, to bring to church. Every year, we have a vacation Bible school which is another outreach method.

   But are we doing enough? And I don't mean just my church, all of us. And should we just associate outreach with the church and never do it on our own?

    I am definitely including myself in this. I fall way too short myself, but I feel most Christians in general are failing at what God wants most from us as a church and individuals. We almost have a checklist Christianity. What's that?
     1) Read my Bible: check
     2) Prayed: check
     3) went to Sunday School: check
     4) went to the a.m. worship service: check

   And so forth. We focus on what we feel we need to do to please God and to look good to our other Christians..... sound harsh? Maybe so, but I am personally sick of doing things to please other people. I wonder how many of us go to certain church services, go to special revival services, etc, because we fear what people will think if we skip out? How many of us have things we don't do, clothes we don't wear, places we don't go, because we fear what other people at church will think of us?

   Maybe I'm the only one who has erred in this area, but I have. I won't go into details, but I've been guilty of working at pleasing people more than God. It sounds bad to say that, but that is exactly what has happened. That is one reason I don't like to pray around people, i.e. in church, because I try to use the right words, voice inflection, etc..... it is almost like I am praying to the people around me, instead of to God. I'm not, but why is it so hard for me to just set people aside and focus on God?

   Back to my subject: I like the zone idea, but in one way, its sad. And no, I am not criticizing it. I just said I liked it, see previous comment :-) - what is sad, is that people don't just do that on their own. Sad that visitors aren't jumped on, so to speak, by whoever they are sitting near.

   And if you think about it, we all have our own zones, in the church, and out of the church. There are people we rub elbows with daily, weekly, and sometimes just once. I'm not saying we need to witness to every person we meet, but we need to be reaching out somehow, loving people, even if its a smile and a "hello". Christians should be the friendliest people on earth, but some of the most stuck up people I know claim to be Christians. And what a sad and pathetic thing that is: a stuck up, and unfriendly Christian. Is it no wonder so many people have an unflattering opinion of Christians?

  There are countless ways to reach people, to show them you care. To reference my best friend again, he was saying how often he has seen people sitting in a coffee shop, McDonalds, etc, studying/reading their Bible. He made the point that even that could be a way to reach people. If you're doing that, and look and act approachable, someone might come to you, if they need help or are interested in Christianity...... but are we approachable? Do we really come across as people who love God and love people who cross our paths? Or do we come across as unfriendly. busy, unapproachable?

   I truly think most of us are missing it. We have our checklist that we are faithful to, and compared to everyone else in the church, we look pretty good. But are we? Most of us are so busy that we don't have time to reach out to people. When we are at church, we have our cliques and have to fellowship and talk to the same people we always talk to after church. We don't want to take the time to speak to a visitor and make them feel welcome, or even to someone outside of our clique to ask how they are doing. We are busy, self absorbed, and make excuses why we don't do more.

   I read the book Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire by Jim Cymbala a few years back. It is a fascinating book, and if you have never read it, you should. Cymbala pastors the Brooklyn Tabernacle church, and tells how they got started. They had just a few people attending, and started focusing on prayer meetings. The church started to grow. They stayed focused on prayer - to this day, I believe they have people praying in the basement for the service while it is going on - and started focusing on reaching people. They weren't afraid to get their hands dirty. They even went after the male prostitutes in their area. They got them into church, and got them saved. They had to go so far as to teach some of these guys how to walk and act like a man....... can you imagine being that dedicated to reaching people for Christ? I've heard people in my church make derogatory statements about gay people. "They should all be hung", "I wouldn't want those perverts around me or my kids", "I'd rather have a murderer or rapist around my kids than one of THEM." I know all of the people in my church don't feel that way, but how many people in my church, in your church, would be willing to go as far as the Brooklyn Tabernacle people have gone?

   This Jesus who we serve and claim to want to be like...... I know what He would do. He'd be out there trying to reach the worst of society: the prostitute, the drunkard, the drug addict, the gay people..... even the child molester.

   God isn't impressed with how many chapters we read a day in our Bible, by how much we put in the offering, of how good we look sitting in our church pew...... if God can be impressed, He is impressed when we do what He does best: love people, and reach out to them for Him, to bring them to Him. It doesn't have to be outright witnessing. Just being kind, loving, and helping people will draw them to Jesus. But do we want to use our time? Do we want to get our hands dirty? If we want to be the church and people God wants us to be, we may have to do that. We definitely have to love people, even the people committing what we consider to be the worst of sins.

    There are people who do their part, and more than their part, but I'm afraid the majority of Christians are like me. We don't do enough, if anything to reach out to people. And if not, we should be ashamed of ourselves and seek to change. Seek to reach out to people in the zone we are in.

   As I was typing this blog, I saw a facebook post from  churchleaders.com about outreach. It is titled 17 Summer Outreach Tips. So if you need an idea, here are some:

Intentional interim pastors usually find themselves called to serve inward-focused churches. This is typically true because we are called to churches that have been through a period of protracted turmoil, because the senior leadership has lost mission and vision, or because other serious problems (e.g., declining income) have drawn the church’s attention in on itself. The interim pastor’s job is to turn this around, but that can be a tall order.
You can stimulate personal evangelism — or at the very least raise awareness of the need — by weaving these 17 easy-to-implement ideas into your preaching and teaching: (by Bud Brown)

1. Map the neighbors. In church one Sunday, ask the congregation to sketch maps of their immediate neighbors (those on either side and the three houses across the street). If the family in a house is Christian, mark it “C,” if they are not mark it “NC,” and if you don’t know mark it “NS.” Then challenge them to connect with the “NC” and “NS.”

2. Pray when you pass a cult meeting place. Urge the congregation to pay attention to the Kingdom Halls and Mormon Stakes on their regular commute, and then to say a quick prayer that the people therein would hear and believe the gospel.

3. Team with another couple for a summer neighborhood Bible study. Have the congregation team up to invite neighbors to a six-week dinner and “investigation” about the evidence for the reliability of the Christian message. Be sure to recommend a resource they can use!

4. Throw a “Know Your Neighbors” BBQ. Most folks in the congregation won’t really know their neighbors. If each family in your church will host a “Know Your Neighbors BBQ” on a Sunday afternoon, a lot of connections will be made. At each gathering, each family or neighbor will give a very short “story” about who they are. Include a short testimony of faith, but keep it low key.

5. Host a "garage giveaway." Have three or four families from the church team up to have a garage sale. But instead of selling the items, give them away along with a Gospel of John book or a gospel tract.

6. Plan a backyard VBS. Move vacation Bible study out of the church campus. Stage it in various homes around the community. That way your church members will learn which families are concerned for their children’s welfare and can offer additional service and invitation directly to them.

7. Have a B.Y.O.S. cookout for the co-workers. The folks that work in office settings or in the trades can invite their colleagues to a “bring your own steak” party. The host provides the grill, charcoal, all the rest of the dinner and drink items, and the tableware. The visitors each bring their own item for the grill. (Anything that involves meat and fire is usually of interest to the male of the species.)

8. Get pizza delivered for the construction crew down the street. If your parishioners live in developing subdivisions, they can bless the construction crews by having fresh pizza delivered to them at lunch time.

9. Target the new neighbors. Ask the members to keep their eyes open for houses under construction and for moving vans. On move-in day, they can introduce themselves with a list of schools, churches and shopping in the area, along with contact information for the police and emergency services. Be sure to throw a brochure from the church in the mix!

10. Use your smartphone to make a video of neighbors around the church. Most smartphones make reasonable quality videos. Walk the streets around the church and film the area. If someone is out and about, do a “man on the street” interview (ask, “What are some of the needs people living in this area have?”). Then show it in church.

11. Invite a school principal to speak about the needs of children and families. Chances are, your church is near a school. Invite the principal or a teacher to address the congregation about needs of children and families in that school. Afterwards, lead a discussion about how the church can marshal its resources to address some of those needs.

12. Tell stories about people in the church who have done outreach. Your church almost certainly has someone who is passionate about evangelism and outreach. When you get wind of someone having engaged in an outreach activity, be sure to mention it and praise that person in the main worship service. Remember, whatever gets rewarded gets repeated!

13. Mention personal evangelism in every sermon. If you are doing personal evangelism, be sure to mention it. But be careful how you phrase this to make sure that the report isn’t about you. And only mention your own activities sparingly.

14. Ask the mayor or a town councilman to speak to the congregation. Have him or her address those areas of the community where the “lowest and the least” dwell, the problems faced by families, projected areas of growth, and how your church might speak to the community with needs.

15. Share flowers or fresh produce from your garden with the neighbors. This is a perfect excuse to meet the neighbors whom you haven’t spoken to in five years. “I just got this from my garden and I’m hoping you can use it. We have more than enough for ourselves.” Who knows where that introduction will lead?

16. Volunteer your services. While you’re washing your car, mowing the lawn or raking leaves, offer to do it for your neighbor.

17. Observe when neighbors are outside and what they do, then make it a point to do the same. If your neighborhood is full of dog walkers, buy a dog and walk it at the same time as most other folks. If your neighborhood is crawling with joggers or cyclists, join right in. Opportunities to share a bit of the gospel will present themselves naturally as you cultivate budding relationships.