I grew up in a family of “twicers.” Twicers, is the name that was coined by people who study congregations for people who regularly attended morning and evening church services. Our Sunday services at Greenock Elim church followed a pattern that was repeated in most evangelical churches probably right up till the end of the twentieth century. Our morning service was quite formal, even for a Pentecostal Church and we sang some hymns and had communion and the sermon was focused on Christians. The evening service was called the “Gospel Service” and someone led us in singing some “choruses” there was then often a special musical piece or a testimony and the sermon was usually a presentation of some facet of the Gospel. I can remember people regularly coming to the front of the church in these gospel services to accept Jesus as their Saviour. When I went to Bible College an older minster who came to speak to us said that when it came to Sunday we should “preach to the saints in the morning and the sinners in the evening.”
The Sunday evening Gospel service I just described is actually a fairly recent innovation in church life and was pretty controversial when introduced. In the middle to late 19th century, in the UK at least, Church attendance was in decline. Cities were growing and attracting large numbers of people from the country to jobs in factories. Many of these people didn’t connect with a church in the city. This was partly because new church buildings needed to be built but mainly because these mainly poorer people felt unwelcome and uncomfortable. Pews were often rented by richer families and the poorer people were herded into rows near the back. It was expected you came to church in your “Sunday best” and of course many of these poorer people didn’t have a Sunday best or it was in the pawn shop so they felt too uncomfortable to attend church
The church’s response was the evening service. It was less formal, often being held in church halls. In fact, the Methodist Church in the UK went further, they noticed that working class people felt uncomfortable in traditional church buildings but flocked to the music halls. So, in just about every major city in the UK the Methodist Church built a “Central Hall” that looked like a music hall, they usually even had theatre style seating and a stage at the front. The Gospel service was less formal than the morning, they often sang “Sankey Gospel Songs.” Sankey was the musician who accompanied DL Moody on his evangelistic campaigns, and he popularised Gospel Songs. These were a sort of hymn but which had a contemporary sounding tune and like songs sung in music halls had a chorus between each verse. (This was the predecessor to the worship wars of the 1970/80s when contemporary worship sings started to be introduced) There were often testimonies by ordinary people about how they had become a Christian. So, the Sunday evening Gospel Service was an attempt to present the Gospel to people who found “normal church” ie Sunday morning an uncomfortable experience in a setting that they could relate to. The context in which the Gospel was presented was changed a bit but the content of the Gospel wasn’t
I said earlier that I remember people often making “decisions for Christ” in those services. I know people who came to church for the first time to a Gospel Service and were converted that night. It all made sense, they knew they were a sinner and the Gospel answered the problem to the guilt they lived with. That rarely happens today because contemporary culture means that people no longer share a Christian worldview. The majority of people today in the West don’t really believe in sin and they think Christianity is evil because its intolerant and intellectually incoherent.
A recent study of how people with no experience Christianity came to Christ described their journey like this
- FROM DISTRUST TO TRUST …. People like Richard Dawkins have popularised the idea that Christians are intolerant bigots who are bad for society. People start their journey to faith by meeting authentic believers in Jesus and finding out that these Christians are OK
- FROM COMPLACENT TO CURIOUS …. After meeting followers of Jesus, the next step after watching their Christian friend’s life and talking to them about faith is when they decide that Jesus is interesting
- FROM CURIOUS TO OPEN ….. The next step in this journey is when people move from simply being curious about Jesus to deciding because of what they have seen and heard that Jesus could be for me
- FROM MEANDERING TO SEEKING …. Some of those people will take the next step and decide that Jesus is worth taking seriously. These are the people who will come along to Alpha Courses or Christianity Explored Courses.
- FROM SEEKING TO FOLLOWING …. Just like in the old Gospel service eventually some of these people will step over the line of faith and decide that I am turning to Jesus
- FROM FOLLOWING TO GROWING ….. The people who become followers of Jesus then look to the church to help them live like Jesus
As a church we need to help people take this journey to faith. We have to intentionally plan for how we will help people take the next step to faith.
I think very simply this will mean two things for us INVEST AND INVITE.
We need to invest time in building relationships with people who don’t know Christ. If people in our culture are going to overcome their prejudice about Christ and Christianity that will primarily happen through those of us who are Christians investing time and effort in building friendships with them. People will only become curious about the difference Jesus makes if they know someone well enough to see the difference He makes in their life.
At the point when people become curious about Jesus and we need to be able to invite them to events where they can hear about what Christianity is all about, who Jesus is and how to investigate his claims and begin to follow Him. Its is our responsibility as a church to create events where you can invite the people we have invested in to, knowing that they wont be made to feel uncomfortable except by the claims of Jesus and the Gospel.
In case you hadn’t guessed our Café Church experiment is an attempt to do just that, to create an event you can invite people to who are open to Jesus or seeking Jesus seriously. Its our attempt in our time and culture to recreate something like the old evening Gospel service. As I said before in some ways were are not being innovate with this experiment but drawing on past lessons from the history of the church. We also need to make sure that we have the next steps in place to help people to keep moving towards Jesus in a journey of faith. We are going to have to run Alpha or Christianity explored or something similar to help people seriously and in depth explore Christianity and think about Jesus.
So why am I “harping on” about this again? Because quite simply unless we can create a pathway for people to journey along to bring them to faith in Jesus then all our talk about “enabling people to become lifelong followers of Jesus” is just that, talk. Not to be too dramatic about it, we will also be ignoring Jesus’ direct command to make disciples and leaving people to a lost eternity. Can I say categorically this is not about watering down the Gospel, its about helping people to actually be able to hear the authentic Gospel in a way that is makes sense to them in our culture.
Its going to be a challenge to do this because frankly not many churches are doing it effectively and of course our context here in Switzerland as an international church reaching out to a multicultural group of English-speaking people is pretty unique. My promise to you is that if you will invest in people, invest in building friendships, invest your time in expressing practical love, as a church we will do everything we can to try and create events and programmes that you can invite those people along to, to help them take the next step in their journey to Jesus. This what we mean when we say our mission is “ENABLING people to become lifelong follower of Jesus.” Now we believe that is our God given mission, we have to be ruthlessly focused on working out what enables people to become followers of Jesus in our setting here in Switzerland.
This may involved some change for us as church, actually lets be honest, it will inevitably involve some change for us, but not change for changes sake, or change to make the Gospel more palatable, or change to be trendy but change to enable us in the power of the Spirit to reach a lost generation around us and save them from a lost eternity in the future and offer them a life that can be lived to the full in the present. Its change to help us see more people enter the Kingdom of God and join Westlake because of their changed lives. I dont know about you but I can embrace change like that?