17th August 2018
The evangelistic power of proximity
I have no intention of going to a nightclub. I went as a student, I don’t remember particularly enjoying it and I can’t think of a reason to go back. If someone handed me a flier in town inviting me to go I’d throw it in the nearest bin or screw it up, put it in my pocket and forget about it till my jeans come out the machine with a washed out piece of paper shredded all over them. If I’m honest even if a good friend invited me to go with them I’d be unlikely to budge, and I’d look round for even a thin excuse to not go. You might love going to nightclubs and feel that I’m missing out on a whole load of dancing fun but for me, I don’t have a dancing hole in my heart, I’m content, and so are many of my over 40-year-old friends.
That last paragraph is probably not a surprise to anyone who knows me, but my point is not to confirm my un-coolness but rather to show that if you swap “nightclub” for “church” then you’ve got a picture of how most people feel about attending church or listening to someone explain the good news about Jesus. They know enough to know they don’t want to know any more.
Obviously, the swap is not entirely fair. My aversion to nightclubs and a non-Christians aversion to Christ are in different categories, and if you’ve read Romans 1 you’ll know that there are other forces at work too. But even still the example is helpful at making the point that at the level of asking people to consider coming to church we’ve got an uphill struggle. And that’s where proximity comes in.
The last time I went out dancing it was with a group of people I knew well. I had an invite from more than one person and knew that when I got there would be a number of people that I knew there. More than that I knew enough of those inviting me to know that there would always be someone to talk at, or at least shout at over the loud music while we sat and drank our drinks.
So for us as a church. We want as many of our friends, family, and community to hear the great news of the Lord Jesus Christ. We are persuaded that the news is not just for religious types, or people of a certain race, background or class, instead, the message about Jesus is for everyone who will listen. For sure we take every opportunity to talk about Jesus and to answer questions individually, but we are convinced that the gatherings of the church on a Sunday are a great place to hear that message explained, celebrated and embodied. It follows then that it’s going to be a big help to those we invite if they already know a number of people there: people they’ve seen as they walk their dogs, drop the kids off at school, buy a loaf of bread, drink in the local pub. Even people they know because they’ve been around your house at the same time, share a friendship group.
Put simply living close to where the church meets and investing in that community really helps that dynamic, ultimately making it easier for our friends to get a decent look at what the gospel is about and what it’s doing in our lives. That’s the evangelistic power of proximity.