OPEN: It was Palm Sunday 8-year-old Bobby stay home because of strep throat. When the family returned home carrying palm branches, he asked what they were for. His mother explained "People held them over Jesus' head as he walked by". The boy sighed and said. “Wouldn't you know it, The one Sunday I don't go… Jesus shows up!”
Sunday is a time when we expect Jesus to show up. That’s why we get together each Sunday… we’re looking for Jesus. We look for Him in the sermons, the singing, communion, our prayers, the fellowship, and Sunday School. And what we’re looking for is Jesus.
That’s kind of what Peter is saying here: “you come to (Jesus), a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious” I Peter 2:4. That’s Jesus we’re looking for - chosen and precious.
(PAUSE) Now this has always been a great church because Jesus is what you folks have come looking for each Sunday. And I brag on this church all the time. Visitors are always telling me what a loving and kind congregation this is. People always feel welcome. And people often come to us who have been damaged in other churches, because this is a healing church. I don’t know if I’ve ever told you, but I’ve been fired from my first 2 churches – by contrast I’ve been here for 23 years. Any church that won’t fire me after that long has got to be a great church.
In addition, we have Hispanic and Burmese worship services. God has been kind enough to entrust that to this congregation. And once a year, we have a “Unity Worship Service” where all three language groups gather for one large worship gathering and carry-in meal to celebrate that, in spite of the fact that we are 3 different languages, we are ONE church serving one Lord.
And I’m always telling people 40% of the people do 100% of the ministry (compared to 10% in many churches). There’s people doing things around here that I don’t even know what they’re doing… and that’s OK.
There are preachers who’d give their eye-teeth to preach at a congregation like this. And part of the reason is because of how “invested” you folks have always been in the success.
• When the congregation first got started over 50 years ago, everybody who went to Worship also went to Sunday School. And that same group all went to Sunday Night and Wednesday Night worship times. Why would they do that? They did that because they realized how critical their presence was. They believed that if they weren’t there, the church might grow discouraged and so they INVESTED their time in making this congregation a success.
• As the church began to grow, it moved from a house on Clinton St. to a downtown funeral home, to an ancient church bldg. where bats would occasionally join the worship time. And finally they bought this ground and built the fellowship hall. I often told folk that no one came to that part of the church because it was a pretty building. They came because they loved Jesus. These people were faithful as it moved from location to location because they were INVESTED in its success.
• About 10 years ago we (when we met in the fellowship area) we were bumping 150 in attendance on a regular basis and we had no more room to put people. At a subsequent Elders meeting it was decided to go to services once we hit 150 three weeks in a row. It just so happened that our Annual meeting was a couple weeks later and someone at the meeting asked what we planned to do for church growth. Dave was the MC for the meeting and he replied that we planned to go to 2 services. Almost immediately, several members shouted “NOOOOO!!!” When it came my turn to address the group, I sympathized with the negative voices – it was going to be twice as much work and would require twice as many people to make it happen… and I’d have to preach 2 sermons rather than one – but I didn’t see any choice. Jesus had commanded us to make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and to teach them all that Jesus had commanded. But if we didn’t do something soon, we’d lose our momentum and attendance would drop off. We simply didn’t have the room to grow anymore. So we were left with three options: 1) we could tell Jesus we weren’t interested in growth – and nobody would want to do that, 2) if someone had a $ million in their back pocket we could start breaking ground the next day, or 3) we could go to 2 services. If someone else had another option I was open to hearing about that, but there didn’t seem to be anything else to do.
During the subsequent discussion someone asked what would happen if this new service failed. I admitted that we’d tried many things that had failed over the years, but that was price of doing ministry successfully. Then, a thought came to my mind and I said “I tell you what. If you don’t want this new worship service to happen, I give you permission to pray for it to fail. If it fails we won’t do it and we’ll try something else.” Two weeks later we started our 8:00 a.m. service… and guess who showed up for it? That’s right – all those who were so negative. But why would they show up? They showed up because they were INVESTED in the success of the ministry.
• About 6 years ago we had enough money to start construction… but didn’t. The nation was experiencing a minor recession and several people were struggling with their bills. The Eldership discussed this and said that it didn’t seem right to start a building project when some many people were hurting financially. They’d rather keep the money on hand to help people with their bills. A month later, at our Annual Meeting, Larry (the man in charge of the building program) stood up in front of the congregation and explained the Elders decision – no building project until we’d helped people in need (PAUSE) and the audience broke out in applause. I was never so proud of this church as I was right then. But do you know why so many of you applauded that day? It was because you were INVESTED in the success of this Church. Not the building, but the real church – the people.
This church has ALWAYS been a great church because so many of you have been invested so much in its success, and I brag about you all the time. In fact, there’ll be times when I’ll be alone in the building and I’ll think about how blessed I am to be allowed to be your preacher… and I feel somehow unworthy.
But I’ve grown troubled over the past year or so. We’ve not grown like the way I’ve always thought we should have. Back when we went to 2 services we were averaging 150 people a week… and now, 10 years later we’re averaging about 140 to 160 people. For 10 years we haven’t moved the needle a whole lot. And the question is… WHY? Why haven’t we moved the needle???
Well, I’ll tell you what we’ve done so far to move the needle: When we built this sanctuary… we built it to hold 256 people; a number of folks have spent hours painting and decorating bldg. to make it welcoming to visitors; we have a great bunch of Sunday School teachers (in fact they’re as a good a teachers as many I had in in Bible College; we have the Food Pantry that’s served 120 families in the past 6 months; we have the Clothing Giveaway that brought a couple hundred people to our building; we have the free lunches 4th Thursday of every month; Roger has been faithful in changing the messages on our sign out front to get people’s attention; we’ve had about 12 baptisms a year, every year since I’ve been here. And 4 years ago, we hired Scott Jewell to be our family minister. We hired him because of skill set. He is developing friendships all across the city and has been meeting with school kids at the various schools during lunch time. Just this last week we had 17 of our youth at Church camp and had 3 kids baptized into Christ. Scott’s comment: well that’s all the kids in youth group who weren’t baptized. I guess I need to go find some more.
And yet… we’ve not moved the needle a whole lot, and I’ve been asking myself why? So I’ve spent a lot of time in prayer with God on this; and just last month at Sunday Eve Worship I gave a lesson on “Bold Prayer” that talked about our privilege to approach the throne of grace with boldness. And I told the folks there of my prayer for church growth. I asked them to pray with me for grow church – but then I asked what number of people in attendance we should pray for? I asked for a suggestion of a number that only God could make happen. Pam raised her hand and said “500.” (Well, I was thinking 300, I didn’t want to make it TOO hard on God), but we prayed for 500 people and that’s what I’ve been praying for ever since.
Now, a question: How many of you think GOD could build this congregation to 500? Another question: how many you would want god to build this church to 500? I’m convinced God CAN and WILL do that for us… but I need to give you a warning on this.
ILLUS: I recently watched a movie called “Soul Surfer” that told the true story about a competitive surfer who suffered a tragedy when a shark tore off her right arm. It dealt with the spiritual and emotional struggles she encountered as she fought her way back to be in a major competition that changed her life. Just as she was ready to take part in that competition, her father pulled her aside and told her he was proud of her and that no matter what, she was more important to him than the contest. Then he told her one of her greatest strengths was being able to “catch the right wave” and that she should wait for that “right wave” and not wear herself trying to ride every wave that came in to shore. And that’s what she did. She waited for just that right wave. She knew it was coming, and she rode one of the most powerful waves of the day. The reason she caught the wave was because she made herself ready for it.
That’s what we need to do today. I believe this is our moment. Our wave is just on the horizon… but we need to be ready for it. But I don’t think we are ready just yet. I don’t think we’re ready. When I was at the Hillsboro camp last week I discussed some ideas I had for evangelism and several leading couples in church shared that they didn’t think we were motivated enough to catch the wave when it came. We weren’t ready to sacrifice. And the more I thought about it… they were right. And it was like God was convicting me that God WOULD cause us to grow - but only if we were willing to sacrifice to get it done.
Now, what do I mean by that?
Do you remember my telling you that when this church got started everybody was present at Sunday Morning and Sunday School and Sunday Night and Wednesday Night? Everybody showed up for everything. And that’s what EVERY new startup church has to do if going to survive. It creates a kind of energy because everyone is INVESTED in success. But over time that commitment/investment begins to flag, and it happens with just about every church.
And it’s happened to us. Attendance at worship last week was about 141 people. Sunday School was a total of 65 people. That means about half as many people showed up for Sunday School as for worship. Now, as churches go… that’s not TOO bad. In fact, in most established churches across the nation, that’s pretty good. But it’s not the investment we had to begin with. Like just about every other church, we don’t have the same commitment to Sunday School as we had when we first got started.
Then there’s my bragging point that 40% of the people do 90% of the work. That’s pretty good. That means 4 out of every 10 members is active in some form of service. But that also means that 6 out of every 10 members isn’t involved in ministry. In startup churches, that percentage is often much higher because… THEY’RE it! If something is going to get done, that small group of believers had to do it.
THEN… there’s the finances. Since August of last year, we’ve had to dip into savings to the tune of about $10,000. That’s an average loss of about $200 each week. Now, we can do that for a little while. But we’re not the US Government – we can’t print money - so we can’t do it forever. Sooner or later, we have to cut back on ministry, and I don’t think you want that!
Now folks… here’s the deal. I believe in this Church … AND I believe that God wants to bless this church. But for God to bless us… we’ve got to step up our game. We have to got decide whether we want the church to succeed, and that means we have to decide to INVEST in this church.
ILLUS: It’s said, that when unrighteous people try to manipulate the church (because they can’t get their way) they will VOTE with their feet and with their pocket books. In other words – if they can’t get their way, they walk away, and they stop giving. They vote with their feet and their pocketbooks.
Now if unrighteous people vote with their feet and their pocketbooks… righteous people ought to do the same. We need to vote with our FEET.
ILLUS: Back when I was a boy, my family went to Church, and to Sunday School and Thursday night carry-in and Bible Study – followed by Choir practice. On Thursdays alone we were there from 6 pm till 9 pm each week. And we tried to serve where we could. We were in the choir, and Dad was the Sunday School Superintendent and one of the Elders. My family was invested in that church succeeding. We voted with our feet because mom and dad decided they were going to be there for the church.
BULLETIN INSERT: In your bulletin this morning you’ll find an insert. There’s a place for your name. Underneath that is a box you can check to indicate you’ll commit to Sunday School, or Sunday Evening or Wednesday Night (to at least one) for the next 6 months. I’m asking you vote with your feet. I’m asking you to invest in this church as you would if it were a startup and everything depended upon your presence.
Then, underneath that box is another couple of boxes. The first box is one you would check if you have a ministry you’d like to do… but nobody’s asked you.
The 2nd box is for you to check if you’re willing to be used, but you have no idea what you could do.
ILLUS: When I first arrived at Logansport I was puzzled by the fact that no one had ever contacted me to work at the camp. For 14 years (at the previous congregations I served) I was either a Dean or teacher… or something. Every year. Here, nobody seemed to need me at camp. They seemed to have all the staff they needed from other supporting churches and I was just unnecessary. I eventually asked the camp director if they ever needed extra workers. “Of course,” he replied. “Well, how come nobody has ever asked for my help?” He admitted they’d never thought to ask. I said “Well, next time – ask! In fact, you need to create a ‘tickler file’ of people who’d be willing to help out if needed.”
By checking that 2nd box on the bulletin insert, you’re saying you’re willing to be part of a “tickler file” of people willing to volunteer if needed.
So, the point of this bulletin insert is to challenge you to vote with your feet. To invest your time and your talents in the church.
AND we need to vote with our pocketbooks.
There’re a few bad habits many Christians fall into occasionally. One is, that if they miss worship they just don’t make it up offering next week. They start thinking that “If I don’t show up, I don’t have to pay.” They tend to view the church like they view a sports stadium or a movie theatre. If they’re not there, they don’t need open their wallets. But this is a church, not an sports arena. This is family, not an entertainment venue. If you’re INVESTED in a church your tithe is your VOTE they stay open.
ILLUS: I’ve served here for 23 years and I’ve always tithed every week. Now once in a while I miss. I get sick, or I forget, or I go on vacation. But when I go away… I make sure my tithe doesn’t. I make write my check for the weeks that I miss. Why? Not because I “have to”, but because I am invested in this congregation and I care whether or not we succeed. And I’ll guarantee you, that’s the same attitude shared by your Elders, Deacons, Sunday School teachers… and many others in this church.
Another bad habit is giving God leftovers. Some folk don’t tithe their income. They don’t plan ahead. What they do is they are sitting in the sanctuary and then see the offering plate being passed. They look in their wallet to see what they have. They may have $30 or so, but they don’t want to give it all… they wouldn’t have enough left over for lunch after church. So they’ll give the $10 bill. They don’t plan ahead and so God gets their left overs. If you’re INVESTED in this church, your tithe (a 10th of your income) is your VOTE we stay open.
ILLUS: Yesterday I took my Daughter and her husband and my grandson Benjamin to the Zoo in Indianapolis. Actually I mostly wanted to take Ben… but I had to take ALL of them with me just for show. Guess how much it cost for me to pay our way into the zoo. It was $89! That’s a lot of money. Was it worth it? Of course it was. I made a choice that they were worth the investment of that sum of money because they mattered to me. In the same way I give to this church because YOU are worth my investment. You, as Christ’s body, matter to me.
CLOSE: Here’s the deal – I couldn’t preach this sermon just anywhere. There are churches where this kind of sermon wouldn’t be tolerated. But I can preach it here… because I believe in you. I believe you are a people INVESTED in this church not only surviving but thriving. As Peter said it “you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ… and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”
I believe this is our moment. This is our chance to catch the wave. And I believe God is just waiting to see how invested we are in His church so that we can see the value of offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. And when we act in faith in this we will learn that our faith in Jesus will not be put to shame.