For decades when people moved around the country they were told, “To make friends, find a church.” That worked well for a long time. I would guess that even in the last ten years that when some people moved one of the first things they did was to look online to find a church that sounded interesting to them.
Creating a community where people may encounter the transforming grace of Jesus today is no longer about sitting in our churches, waiting for those people who are looking for us. It really is about recapturing our identity and role as people fully engaged in transforming the world. For some engagement is learning about political processes that impact society. For others it is working to end hunger or meet the needs of the homeless.
For this moment, let us consider the person who is not hungry or homeless or oppressed by the forces that cause so much harm. This person is easily overlooked because they appear to live comfortable lives, in comfortable places. They may be your next door neighbor, or your child’s teacher, or any number of people you encounter by living life as you normally do. This person may be recently divorced or diagnosed or terminated from their job. They may have been told how worthless they are. This person may have had an affair or been on drugs. On the surface this person looks like they have it somewhat together, but underneath it all they are broken.
While God calls us to work for justice and hope for those whose needs are extreme, God also is calling us to notice the ones we walk past each day, who do not know that they are loved by God, who do not know that failure is not fatal. Chances are this person may never know what grace and new life is all about unless they encounter someone as a friend. But they aren’t going to look online for a church to attend. They will need to encounter the church coming into their world, striking up a friendship with them in a one to one relationship.
Last fall our Annual Conference began a movement to empower us to Reach New People. While each person needs to listen to the voice of the Spirit as God calls us to works of justice and mercy, and healing, some people are also called to works of restoration through the building of relationships with those who would never walk into a church. This is what Reaching New People is designed to do.
In the weeks ahead we will be sharing stories with you about how other churches are Reaching New People. We hope they will inspire you in your journey of faith. You may just be the person to develop a relationship with a stranger and walk with them into a new life.
Rev. N. Susan Brims
Missional Strategist & Superintendent
Desert Southwest Conference
The United Methodist Church