Congregations are always trying to find out the rules of attraction. I don’t use the word “attractive” to indicate “hip,” “trendy” or even aesthetically pretty, but a cluttered building does create a chaotic message. I mean “attractive” as in people are attracted to them, attracted to join their God-given mission. 

In my years as a parish pastor, I’ve come to believe that the most effective evangelism strategy is the personal invitation. “Come and see” is the line Philip uses on Nathanael in the Gospel of John (1:46), and it’s still the most attractive way to help people walk in the church doors and encounter the gospel.   

But there are other ways, of course. 

One we use in my community is what I call the “see and come” phenomenon. I refuse to call it a strategy because, when it’s authentic, the “see and come” phenomenon isn’t a tool or strategy for evangelism at all. It’s just the simple outpouring of a community that’s taking Jesus’ call to love the neighbor as the self seriously. It’s discipleship on display. 

Where “come and see” evangelism relies on someone extending a personal invitation, the “see and come” phenomenon happens when people outside the church see faith in action and decide they want to be part of whatever God is doing there. 

We give clues as to what our community is about by what we’re about. Here are some of my observations of what congregations embodying the “see and come” phenomenon are doing.  

Where “come and see” evangelism relies on someone extending a personal invitation, the “see and come” phenomenon happens when people outside the church see faith in action and decide they want to be part of whatever God is doing there.

They use their space well. God calls us to be good stewards of the earth in the early chapters of Genesis, which includes whatever space your building inhabits. We’re trying to do this in my parish, though it’s always a work in progress. We recently put in two garden beds right by the building’s front entrance. In these beds, small vegetables and table flowers will grow, which means usable produce for our feeding programs and a veritable science lab for our preschool to use to learn about God’s creation.  

Like many congregations that have the font at their sanctuary entrance to ensure you can’t enter or exit without thinking about your baptismal calling, we have these gardens at our church entrance, ensuring that you can’t enter or exit without thinking of the practical implications of that calling. In the sea of concrete that is our parking lot, we have a garden oasis, a visible sign of our mission to feed the poor and care for the earth. You can’t not see our mission when you pull into the parking lot. 

Everything in and around the church should have a purpose that fits with the community’s current mission. And if it doesn’t, it should be rethought or discarded. Attractive congregations take their space seriously and use it to signal their mission. 

They use their energy well. If your neighborhood has to come inside your doors or go to your website to know what you’re about, you’re not engaged enough in what’s going on in your community. Find the issues of need and concern in your small corner of existence and take public action to talk about it. Some congregations create mobile food pantries, march for justice and peace, or regularly and publicly volunteer to address local needs.     

Perhaps you have the opposite problem: Your congregation has a finger in every pie and there are never enough volunteers to meet the needs you’ve committed yourself to, so no one knows what you’re about. This isn’t due to inactivity but because of too much activity. 

Attractive congregations know what God is calling them to do with their lives and hearts (usually just one or two things), and they do it publicly and to the best of their ability. The community “sees how they love” through their actions and comes to join them in mission.   

They use the gifts of others well. The best way to get a potential volunteer to pass on an opportunity is to tell them, “Oh, it’s so easy! Anyone can do it!” If anyone can do it, then they will assume anyone else can step up.   

Different people have different gifts. Finding opportunities that highlight a person’s particular gifts engages them both in the church’s mission and in their personal skill set. People outside the church see this when they engage with these people, and the call to sacrifice is actually one that they will take when they see a community using it intentionally, for good. 

Not everyone is suited for every role, and attractive churches match people up with their particular gifts so the congregation’s mission is furthered. More and more I’m finding that people want something asked of them in the community of faith. Sacrificial giving of time and talents is desired and, I think, can be required. 

When I’ve worked with congregations and talked with colleagues about their particular faith communities, these three themes always come up: space, mission and gifts. The good news is being proclaimed faithfully in these places, but embodying the gospel takes some practice and intentionality. 

When the neighborhood can see pieces of our mission before they ever walk through the door, when they can know our heart before we’ve ever said a word, and when they know how mindful we are in using our people’s gifts, they will experience the “see and come” phenomenon. 

The life-changing message of Christ is very much alive today, but would anyone know it by looking at our churches? Make it known. Make it heard. When they see, they will come.  

Tim Brown
Tim Brown is a pastor, writer, and mission ambassador and gifts officer for the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago.

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