A couple weeks back we solicited questions about our new venture into missional communities in Alton. Today we’ll take on the question, “What are we inviting people to?”

Short Answer: Nothing.

Medium Answer: Maybe your dining room table. Something personal that isn’t at all programmatic or churchy. Something that serves as a platform for true friendship to be developed.

Long Answer:
This is actually two questions in one. The first question implied here is, “What are we doing? Who are we?” We’ve been fumbling awkwardly through terms for a while, so let’s just land on some names and see if they stick. We’ll call our church-plant-slash-missional-church “The Alton Mission,” which is a network of Restore Communities that seek to bless the Alton area.

The second question is, “What stuff should people come to?” The Short Answer (above) really is, “Nothing. Try not inviting them to anything.” Here are some things to consider:

Go!: A Restore Community is a missional community, which is just a fancy way of saying it’s a community of missionaries. A missionary is someone who is sent to bless, preach the gospel, and give people a taste of the Kingdom of God. A Restore Community is not a new churchy thing to get people to come to. Stop trying to get people to come to your stuff. Go to their stuff. Take the gospel to them.

Do the Work: Paul told Timothy, “Do the work of an evangelist” (2 Timothy 4.5). That’s our message to everyone in the Alton Mission. Don’t let a program do the work for you. Don’t invite someone to hear an “expert” preach the gospel and make disciples. Let’s say you’re hoping to run a program that will make disciples. You try to tailor it so that people will want to come. “How can we get people to come?” you ask. You create something to invite people to, and they even come. That night, you’re busy running the program. They’re busy consuming the program. Relationships are not built. The program can become a barrier to love. Stop trying to invite people to programs.

Not What, But Who: You are inviting them to follow Jesus. That’s the invitation–not to something, but to someone; not a program, but a person. That’s why we can’t settle for programs over relationships, because it will lead people to prefer impersonal formulas and principles for living better, rather than to follow Jesus personally, in community, sensing his presence with them.

Fine… Invite Them: So if you really don’t know what to do if you don’t get to invite them to something, here you go: Invite them into your home. Offer them not a program, but friendship. Let them hang around you until they see the pattern of life you live. Eventually, as you do the work of an evangelist, they will probably ask you if they can come to your Restore Community gatherings. Tell them you talk about life and God, take communion, and plan ways to bless your city. If they’re still interested, teach them the secret handshake and let them in. If they’re not interested, continue with the first three points above.

Stages in Belonging
As people are invited into Christian community, here’s the expected progression:

  1. The missionary engages, blesses, loves the neighbor on their turf, on their terms, in their language, etc.
  2. The neighbor gets a taste of Christian community at one of the monthly Love Your Neighbor nights that every Restore Community includes as part of its monthly rhythm.
    The neighbor gets a taste of Christian compassion at one of the monthly Serve Your City projects that every Restore Community includes as part of its monthly rhythm.
  3. The neighbor wants to know more about Jesus, so asks to be included in the Community Gatherings of the Restore Community.
  4. The neighbor wants to participate fully in the gospel and begins to worship weekly with the Alton Mission.

This progression into Christian community probably won’t match many of our neighbors’ actual journeys. But it can help you in knowing how to gently and humbly provide spiritual direction to those drawn to Christian community.

The Conclusion of the Matter
It should not make you hesitant! If you sense that what a person really needs is to be immersed in worship and to see the gospel on display, then the first step in their spiritual formation might be participation in a worship service with the whole Alton Mission. In that case, you’ve made a prayerful decision based on your involvement in relationship with them, not a hasty decision to pawn them off on some program or professional. It would probably mean that you will sit with them and share a meal that day or soon after to reflect and care for them.

Honestly, the biggest reason we haven’t created a weekend worship service for the Alton Mission is because we’re not completely weaned off of inviting people to events and programs. We probably will be by the time September rolls around, but not unless we practice being missionaries over and over. You can practice being a missionary by following this advice: Don’t invite people to anything. Go to them where they are.