I received an email earlier this week that spoke volumes about the most important thing churches do. The email came from a man who recently went through a divorce and has custody of his two small children. He wrote to tell me his story.
Along with the pain of the divorce and the challenges of raising his children on his own, he told me how he wrestled with the spiritual side of it all. As his email says, when his family fell apart he found himself like so many others—without the kind of connection with God that provides stability when life falls apart. Ephesians 2:12 describes his condition this way: “Remember that you were at that time separated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.”
Then God stepped in. A couple he knew who are part of our church family reached out to him. What happened next is what happens in churches everywhere when everyday people point others to Jesus. As the man explained in his email, this couple’s investment in his life shows in real life the five reasons people connect with churches.
The man graciously allowed me to share his email.
This is an email that I have been putting off until I could no longer do so. I know that you get many of these and I know you have a lot on your plate.
A few months ago my life was in complete turmoil. My wife and I had fallen away from the Lord and went down paths that caused our family to be split. I was in a dark, lonely and lost state. Even though I was saved and knew God and his word I failed to live it. Last summer some long-time friends who recently connected with your congregation reached out to me not knowing the place I was in. They encouraged me to come to their new church home.
My two children and I came to church the following Sunday. We parked in a parking lot that seemed so large and to vast for me to handle. I unbuckled both girls from their car seats and began a long walk towards to front of the church. Never having been in this place and no idea where anything was. We made our way through the doors and into a church so big and massive that I felt overwhelmed. We found our seats and for the first time in a long time I was back in a church. The girls didn’t make it through that service we left before the preaching began but it was the moment that changed our lives.
I started coming each Sunday morning for service and then to an adult Sunday School class. I was welcomed with arms of love, care, compassion and fellowship like I have never had before. My children were both pre-schoolers when we started coming. As hard as it was to get them ready each Sunday I knew they and I were healing from a broken marriage and the struggle of being a single dad. The care givers in the children’s Sunday school classes and on Sunday nights made such a difference in my life that I cannot say thank you enough. They encouraged me each Sunday as I came that I was doing great and the girls were doing so good in their classes. The people at our church gave me hope in a time where I felt hopeless and helpless. They reached out not with empty hands and noses in the air. They reached down into my life in a way that made me know that I could do it. I could make it. I could be a good father. I could raise these kids.
I write all this not to ramble or take time away from your many duties but to encourage you. My children are on a path to know Christ because our church is doing what we say our mission is and that is to make disciples of Jesus Christ in Lexington and around the world. I am on the path to being the man God wants me to be because our family of faith does what it says it’s going to do.
Pastors get all sorts of emails. This is my favorite kind, a story of redemption and hope that only God can provide. I rejoice with this man over what the Lord has done—and is doing—in his life. But along with the divine power at work, there’s also a distinctively church environment. What’s happening is happening in a congregation of people following Jesus. In that context I see four reasons people connect with church:
- People connect with churches when their lives are disrupted and someone reaches out to them. Our world is filled with pain, fear and loss. The gospel goes right to the heart of all that, and when the people in our churches connect with their friends with the gospel in mind, God does great things.
- Simple friendship is more effective in reaching out to people than canned programs. The couple from our church who connected with this single dad did so not because they were a part of church program but because of their concern for the man. Authenticity trumps everything else in church outreach.
- This single dad connected with the church in large measure because his children were well cared for. A quality children’s ministry—in terms of Bible teaching, engaging activities and, especially, warm and caring leaders—is essential in reaching families.
- All of us today are hungry for community. We want to be a part of a group of people who care about us and whom we can care about in turn. We want to know we matter—not just as a number but as a person. The single dad found that in a Sunday School class that knows how important community is.
It stirs my heart as a pastor to see how God takes us from pain into wholeness through the gospel. My hunch is that the man who wrote this email will in the near future find someone in a similar situation and point them to the same hope he’s found.