An article on the church of the future included a comment that caught my attention: “Churches need to stop trying to attract people and start trying to engage people.” This shift in focus is worth some thought. Most churches I know want to attract people, and some churches do that well. They have attractive and up to date websites. They have inviting buildings. They have friendly people. Beyond being attractive in order to attract people, however, churches often find engaging people to be a challenge. Impediments can frequently appear. People enjoy each other’s company so much that they inadvertently overlook someone new. Long-time parishioners can unconsciously assume that everyone knows what is happening – and more especially why things happen as they do. In a culture where anonymity is often preferred when entering a new situation, it is easy to let new people go unnoticed or think someone else will take the initiative to be welcoming.
Rather than looking for the latest technique to attract people (some of which are useful), it seems appropriate to look at what Jesus did in his ministry. He did indeed attract people. At the same time his greatest impact during his ministry was in engaging people. He fed five thousand people, for example. He did this by asking skeptical disciples who were bewildered by an apparently impossible task to share morsels of bread and fish with everyone. He engaged them. He told discouraged fishermen to cast out into the deep and keep fishing. He engaged them. He challenged people reliant on the status quo. Even, or maybe especially, when they responded angrily, it was because Jesus had engaged them. The goal in each case was to transform people’s lives.
One of our tasks in this interim period is to prepare for the next era as a congregation. What would it take for us to sharpen our focus and make sure that when we attract people, we will also engage them as disciples who join us in following Jesus?
The Reverend Edward O. Miller, Jr.