Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” (Luke 5:10)
At our last church council meeting we asked each member of council how they had come to be at Zion. Every one of them was able to tell a story and in every case that story mentioned someone else. Not one of the leaders in that room simply decided to look for a congregation and came to Zion without some sort of referral, recommendation or invitation. And while we do have some people who simply want to find a congregation and visit and then stay, most of us have a story to tell and a person to thank for our connection to this community of faith.
Research shows that congregations that do a good job if welcoming new people into a long-term relationship with a faith community receive most of their visitors through a person. The most effective way for a congregation to interact with a new person is for someone in the church to already know them invite them, sit with them, and introduce them to other people and the work the church does on God’s behalf. Studies show that most people who are brought to church by someone else give it a serious try. People who “drop in” are almost 90% likely to not stay long term. They visit, can’t connect and give up. One study I read said that only 12% of first time visitors who find the church on their own are likely to become members.
Of course, this is not just about membership and numbers. What we hope for is a connection to the body of Christ that is God-centered, life giving and meaningful. Peter is so stunned by his encounter with Jesus that Christ has to tell him, “Do not be afraid…” This is not just a club that is in need of what some jokingly refer to as “butts and bucks.” It is an expression of the body of Christ and a place where lives are changed, people are loved and through whom God is reaching out in love to the world.
In a few weeks, we will begin a unit on invitation. It will be a chance to reflect on how people become part of a Christian faith community. It will give us the tools we need to talk about our faith and do it well. And it will give us methods to invite people to come with us into exploring what life in the church can mean for the people we connect with in our daily lives. This is nothing new. For centuries people have been inviting others to hear the Good News of God’s love for us that Christ brings. It all began in a boat in Galilee when Jesus invited Peter to follow him with the promise of passing the work on: “From now on you will be catching people.” That work is ours as well, and when it goes well, there is nothing more exciting than helping someone encounter God’s love in Christ.