What draws people to a store?
This is a basic question in marketing. Sometimes it is gimmicks. Other times it is sales. I ordered a hamburger at a fast food store, and the clerk gave me two hamburgers. I told her that I only ordered one burger, and she replied, “Buy one and you get one free.” Quite a deal. No wonder the restaurant was really packed that day. People like a bargain.
What attracts people to the church? That question is asked continually in a progressive church. Our text gives us the answer.
Jesus healed a crippled woman. When the synagogue ruler witnessed the miracle, he was angry. Repeatedly he said to the crowd, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days to be cured, and not on the Sabbath day.” But Jesus had an answer for the rabbi, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the Sabbath day?” When He said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.
The crowd was happy! This is an important verse. It tells us what draws people to the Church. Pounding people with the Law of God, giving them a good scolding each Sunday, or promoting a good cause does not attract people, but try the Gospel and see what happens. Tell them about the Lord Jesus. Let the crowds hear of His grace and mercy, and they will come. Jesus said it, “When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all men to myself.”
The worshipers at the synagogue were delighted that this woman was healed. She was set free. That is what the Gospel does. People often come to the worship service tired and discouraged. They come out of a busy week where there have been many tough moments. Not all went well at work, there are financial problems, not all is well in the family, but it is Sunday and they need to attend worship. If in the service this person can hear the Good News that Jesus understands, and words of contentment are spoken to him or her, there is help. His problems are not all solved, but he knows that Christ walks with him. He catches the message, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me.” If he is reminded of his sins with no assurance that they can be forgiven, he goes home with an extra heavy heart. One more problem has been added to his list of discouragements. There is little to bring him back the next Sunday.
Though Jesus gives us the answer to drawing people to Him, how easy it is to say, “Yes, that is right, but other answers seem to get a priority place in attracting people to the service.” Here are a few of these answers familiar to most of us who have been around the church for a while pondering the question, “What can we do to improve our church attendance?”
Good fellowship and friendliness. How true. We humans like to be recognized, and to not be treated kindly is offensive.
Informality in dress. This is relatively new. Some remember when we talked about having a suit we wore to church. I remember well when a woman wore a beautiful pantsuit to church. This was a first. Now it is “come as you are.” This is appealing to some potential worshipers.
The coffee pot. How nice to have a cup of coffee before going to, or after, the worship service. It helps to break the silence between strangers and helps create a friendly atmosphere. Who could vote against the coffee pot?
Listen to these four suggestions, which come from a large department store and are passed on to the church as helpful in attracting people to the services: excess parking, something in the program for everyone, serving people, and advertising.
I believe that all of the above are important, and without a doubt, do attract people to attend worship services, but it takes more than these practical suggestions. Only Jesus Christ is the One who will draw people to His house.
I will never forget an evening that I spent with Dr. M. J. Nelson, the academic dean at the University of Northern Iowa. We were invited to their house for dinner, and while my wife and Mrs. Nelson were in another room, I shared with the Dean that sometimes it made me a bit nervous to preach to highly educated people like him. He had a PhD degree and was a student of the classics. I was a young pastor with little experience.
Dr. Nelson listened as I expressed myself, and then he quietly, and rather dramatically, walked across the room and put his hand on my shoulder. “Pastor,” he said, “when I come to church, I come to be fed with God’s Word. Never be concerned about my academic degrees. I am a babe in Christ.”
What draws people to the church? Dr. Nelson would say, “Preaching Christ.”
The critics of the Reformation were concerned that if salvation was by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, and humans contributed nothing to their salvation, they would live ungodly lives. It was their conviction that keeping not only the Law of God, but also the law of the Church, was necessary if one was to be saved. It was not faith alone, but faith plus works. Therefore, it was necessary to preach a lot of Law to control people’s behavior. They could not believe that a love for Christ would motivate the believer to live according to God’s will. This is something like the rabbi in our text who was insistent on keeping the Law, even it if meant letting a person suffer.
There is no question that the Law of God is important. It convicts us of our sins and leads us to Christ, who alone can take away our sins. It reveals God’s will for our lives. But it is Christ alone who forgives, makes us new people, and creates a personal relationship with God. Tell the story of Jesus every Sunday, and the hungry souls will come back to be fed on the Bread of Life.
This is a powerful word from Jesus to His Church. Remember the crowd’s reaction when they saw the woman healed, “They were rejoicing at all the wonderful things Jesus was doing.” It is Christ who draws us to Him and His Church. People rejoice when lives are changed and spirits are lifted. That is just as true today as it was when Jesus ministered in the synagogue.
Have you heard this Gospel today? Do you believe it is true? Then tell someone about Christ this week. He makes all things new.