A pastor reflects, post-Easter, on the difference between `invitational’ and `missional’

By Ben Gosden, Special Contributor…

Easter Sunday. It’s the day of the year when even the people who hate mornings will gather at ungodly hours to stand on a lawn, in a field, under a canopy, or maybe in a parking lot to watch the sun rise and hear a few words about resurrection.

Easter Sunday. It’s the day when music is extra special – organs, brass, electric guitars and singers alike soar as though they’re heading to the very property line of the pearly gates. It’s the day when our pews are cramped, parking lots are full and everyone arrives at church with their best outfit on and a camera in hand lest they miss out on the annual photo-op that serves to mark time for friends and families alike.

Easter Sunday. It’s the time of year that serves as both a Homecoming and a seeker service all in one. Family members long gone are back in town for the celebration and visitors decide Easter is the day they’ll try a new church out for the first time. If you’re lucky, you’ll even have a few members who are visiting again – inactivity has lasted long enough and they’re making an extra effort to be active in church again.

It’s this last part that probably captivates pastors most. It can be tough to gather on Easter Sunday, see the great attendance and know that it will be “same ol’ same ol’” the next week. The hymns sound so good when a full sanctuary sings them. The sound in the room is so much richer when there are more ears to hear.

But starting next week we go back to the era of decline remembering “days gone by” when our sanctuaries were full.

Can anything change our predicament?

One of the more popular methods of attracting the Christmas/Easter crowds back to church is to promote an exciting sermon series beginning the Sunday after the holiday. Usually this is a clever series, probably more accessible to all levels of faith and biblical knowledge, and packaged in such a way as to draw intrigue and wonder. This can be a really good way to encourage people to come back to church following a major holiday. It’s a great way to be invitational.

But I wonder if this method doesn’t also miss the mark of our calling to be the church?

You see, while promoting new sermon series to visitors and inactive members can be inviting, we operate off of the notion that our job as the church is to open our doors and draw people in. We remain where we are in the church and ask others to take the risk of coming to us.

There’s a difference between being invitational and being missional.

Being missional means we spend Easter Sunday asking questions – learning where people are from or finding out what’s been going on with those folks who have been active for the last year.

Being missional means we spend Easter Sunday with a note pad in our pocket making a call list for Easter Monday. It means we fill our pockets with extra business cards to give out. It means we insist on being bothered over the next couple of days if that means an e-mail or a phone call or a lunch appointment with someone new (or old).

Being missional means that being invitational is important. But before we worry about casting nets and reeling in new people, we should remember our first and primary calling is to be blessed, broken and emptied out in service to others – even if they don’t immediately help to line our pews and offering plates.

A certain friend of mine called to tell me today of an experience at a church in the town where he and his wife had just moved to. He said the pastor worked hard to promote a new sermon series. He said it sounded interesting even to someone like him who attends church about four times a year. But he said the whole sales pitch fell flat when people smiled, welcomed him, handed him a brochure for the church and proceeded to not ask him a single question about himself or his wife. I imagine they’ll be enjoying a lovely brunch next Sunday around 11:00 a.m.

This story served as a harsh reminder for me that too often we miss the point on Easter. God didn’t raise Jesus from the dead in order to just invite people to the empty tomb to stay. God didn’t eventually call the Church together at Pentecost under the order to buy some good real estate and be inviting as sojourners passed by.

Easter is an eternal reminder of a God who is constantly on the move. It’s about a Savior who left the tomb and empty linens behind in order to search out others nearby. It’s the good news of a Risen Savior who is on the move and calling us anew to join him in the streets, neighborhoods, coffee shops, bars and parks, demanding that we reach out to others on their terms for once and not our own.

I have a call sheet for the coming week but I wish it was longer. I saw some familiar faces who have been absent in worship lately and I wished I had spent a little more time asking them about life. I’ve got some folks to follow up with next week but I know I missed too many.

Maybe the best news of Easter is that when we put the power points and prep work aside for a bit, we could actually follow Jesus into the world around us? But we should probably get going – Jesus doesn’t stay in one place for too long.

The Rev. Ben Gosden is associate pastor of Mulberry Street UMC in Macon, Ga.


Sam Hodges, Former Managing Editor, UMR

Sam Hodges

Sam Hodges was the managing editor of The United Methodist Reporter from 2011-2013. A formee reporter for the Dallas Morning News and the Charlotte Observer, Sam is a respected voice in United Methodist journalism.

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