Reformed churches are rediscovering the joy of evangelism in their congregations. The Heidelberg Catechism says that our faith in Christ comes from the Holy Spirit, who produces it in our hearts “by the preaching of the holy gospel” (Q&A 65). And believers must use their gifts that “others may be gained to Christ” (Q&A 86). At Corinth Reformed United Church, we are discovering new ways to share the good news.
All worship, properly conceived and led, is evangelistic. Sometimes, though, our focus in preaching and worship needs to encourage congregations intentionally to share the good news and invite commitment. We can do so in ways appropriate to our historic and contemporary Reformed heritage.
In 2002, our church began using the month of August for an emphasis on evangelism. The first year of our evangelistic emphasis, Sunday morning attendance increased 33 percent from the year before. We maintained that level in 2003 over the same four Sundays. Schools in our area open in early August, so we try to get members and the community back in church before they scatter again on Labor Day weekend.
Our plan was simple. We used four Sundays to focus on ever-widening circles of people.
This year, we used a series on the life of King David for worship and preaching. We set the stage in July with sermons on Samuel, Saul, and the call of David, and extended the series on David into September. Still, each sermon in August was self-contained so that worshipers did not feel they were jumping into the middle of something if they had missed previous Sundays.
Preaching on the life of David made obvious our strategy for worship planning—the psalms of David! Seventythree psalms are attributed to David, and these became a rich resource for worship planning.
WEEK 1 : MEMBER SUNDAY
The first goal of August Adventures was to get members back in the pews after a summer of travel and leisure. We were pleasantly surprised by the positive response to a members-only letter the week before. The letter was positive, and simply invited everyone to make a special effort to attend on this one Sunday if at all possible. We also gave what amounted to an RSVP—Regrets Only. “Please let me know if there is a reason you will be unable to join us.” (Word of caution: it can be depressing to hear from all those who will not be there, but it was encouraging to know that people read the letter and took it seriously.)
1 Samuel 17:1-11, 32-50; Ephesians 6:10-20
Sermon Notes: “Five Smooth Stones”
Our objective on Member Sunday is to begin evangelism with the members of the church. We invite the congregation to consider and renew their own relationship to Christ and their commitment to the community of faith.
The seed of the first sermon in the series came from a Bible study group discussing 1 and 2 Samuel. When we came to the familiar story of David and Goliath, our leader noted the “five smooth stones” David chose from the brook and asked, “What are five essential qualities for building a relationship to God and combating evil?” We chose as a key sentence 1 Samuel 17:47: “The battle is the Lord’s.”
Retelling a story as familiar as David and Goliath requires extra effort, but the story can live again for people of all ages. Let the story speak for itself. This narrative passage lends itself well to a dramatic reading by a group, prepared ahead. Include some background research. Who were the Philistines? Are they related to the modern Palestinians, whose name sounds the same? Was this “winner-take-all” battle challenge common? How tall was Goliath? How much did his armor weigh? Where was this battle fought?
The story of David and Goliath dovetails well with Ephesians 6:10-20, in terms of putting on the armor of God. We also made a connection between the five smooth “stones” or qualities necessary for church members to renew their commitment to God and one another. The “five smooth stones” we chose from Ephesians 6 were faith, initiative, courage, wisdom, and action. All of these call forth a renewed commitment of church members to God and to the church. Member Sunday is the time to issue a direct appeal to church members to support the church in attending and giving. But be sensitive to those members who may have drifted away from the church because of conflict or painful personal situations. It’s an important Sunday for balancing the preacher’s tasks of “afflicting the comfortable” and “comforting the afflicted.”
Leaning on the Everlasting Arms” TH 616, TWC 609
“Faith Begins by Letting Go” SNC 172
“Amazing Grace” PsH 462, PH 280, RL 456, SFL 209, TH 460, TWC 502
“When the Church of Jesus” SNC 265
“If You and I Believe in Christ” SNC 274
“The Battle Belongs to the Lord” TWC 672
Communion and Commitment
The Reformed tradition views every service of worship as an expression and affirmation of our covenant with God and with one another. On this Sunday we celebrated the Lord’s Supper. We also adapted part of John Wesley’s Service of Covenant Renewal of 1755 (http://wesley.nnu.edu/covenant; also see RW 69, p. 26), giving worshipers an opportunity to express their commitment verbally and even in writing. (A bulletin insert could be signed and taken home or placed in the offering plate.) The pastor wrote a brief word of thanks for those placed in the offering plate, and then mailed them to the signers.
WEEK 2: FRIEND SUNDAY
The goal for this service was to enlist the assistance of church members in drawing non-churched persons to worship. Most church members know at least one individual or family not currently attending church. These may be inactive members of their own congregation, new persons in the neighborhood, coworkers, or friends. Friend Sunday gives church members extra motivation and an appropriate occasion to invite them to worship.
Start six weeks or more before Friend Sunday with reminders of the date. Ask all church leaders and staff to identify those whom they will invite. Suggest categories of persons to consider: those without a relationship to Christ or the church or both. Ask whether members would like to suggest friends for a confidential prayer list or for a letter in advance from the pastor. The greater the advance warning and more frequent the reminders, the more likelihood that members will invite friends on Friend Sunday.
Be sure to plan ahead for the guests. If you use welcome folders or packets, have plenty on hand. Consider serving refreshments or even a meal following the service to help boost attendance and interest.
1 Samuel 18:30-19:10; 20:32-42; John 15:12-17
Sermon Notes: “Best Friends”
Friendship is a powerful human need. We crave friends because we are created in the image of God with the capacity to love and be loved. This sermon, recognizing that craving, should offer insights into human friendship and use that longing for friendship to point worshipers to Jesus Christ as our eternal friend.
The story of David and Jonathan is compelling in its own right. This is another opportunity to develop and use a great preaching tool—storytelling. Once again, consider presenting the Scripture as a dramatic reading.
Jesus uses this metaphor of friendship to describe his relationship to the disciples. He knew the longing of the human heart to be listened to, to find fulfillment, and to be loved unconditionally. All of these longings point to Jesus Christ. Conclude the sermon with an invitation to accept God’s offer of friendship through Jesus Christ.
“For the Beauty of the Earth” PsH 432, PH 473, RL 5, SFL 89, TH 116, TWC 353
“What a Friend We Have in Jesus” PsH 579, PH 403, RL 507, SFL 52, TH 629, TWC 622
“In Christ There Is No East or West” PsH 540, PH 440, RL 410, TWC 695
“Softly and Tenderly” TH 479, TWC 441
“All Are Welcome” (Gather Comprehensive 753)
“Don’na Tokidemo” SNC 188
“I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say” PsH 488, TH 304, TWC 506
“Blessed Assurance” PsH 490, PH 341, RL 453, TH 693, TWC 514
Friend Sunday offers an opportunity for personal response to the gospel. A time of silent prayer is appropriate following the sermon. The pastor may also suggest prayers for those who wish to give their lives to Christ such as, “Lord Jesus, come into my life,” or “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”
We included a bulletin insert that allowed members and guests to indicate various responses to the preaching of the gospel, such as:
- Today I made or renewed my commitment to Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.
- I would like to speak to a pastor about my need for Christ.
- I am looking for a church home and would like to know more about this congregation.
- Please add me to the church’s mailing list.
- I plan to attend the Pastor’s Class for new members.
- Please send me more information.
All worship, properly conceived and led, is evangelistic.
WEEK 3 : FAMILY SUNDAY
Family Sunday offers a rich array of possibilities for creativity in outreach. We said to the congregation, tongue-in-cheek, “You may add Family Sunday to Christmas and Easter as a time you may use guilt to get your family to church!” It’s a way of using what the late Donald McGavran called “the bridges of God”—natural human relationships—to widen the circle of God’s love in Christ.
Children were invited to submit sketches related to the Bible story for the following week. Several sketches were submitted each week; we chose one for the bulletin cover and posted the others on a bulletin board.
Our bulletins and newsletters also included pictures and testimonials from church members
Most people have family members who are not committed to Christ and/or the church. Encourage families to have brunch before church or dinner afterwards. Allow reserved pews for one Sunday. We honored the family with the most persons present by giving each family member a potted mum. You’ll also want to be sensitive to single members and those who live far from their families. Perhaps you could encourage some creative “adoption” for this Sunday.
1 Samuel 25:39-44; Acts 16:25-34
Sermon Notes: “David and Abigail”
David was a role model in many ways. Family life was not one of them, at least for the most part. This text and sermon afford opportunities to highlight, as Scripture does, the human side of David. Much about the story of David and Abigail is troubling. A surly, mean, and wealthy drunkard is married to an intelligent, beautiful, and spiritual woman. Nabal’s sense of fairness and hospitality are nil; only his quick-thinking, quick-acting wife spares his life. This is the one time that David’s weakness for beautiful women was an asset, because he listened to Abigail. She did the right thing, sparing her husband’s life and stopping David from violent vengeance. There are important lessons for human relationships in this story, even if many of them are given by way of negative example.
“Rejoice, O Pure in Heart” PsH 561, PH 145, TH 604, TWC 34
“Though I May Speak” PH 335, TH 597, TWC 593
“Now Thank We All Our God” PsH 454, PH 555, RL 61, SFL 33, TH 98, TWC 374
“O Master, Let Me Walk with Thee” PsH 573, PH 357, RL 428, TWC 651
“He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands” PsH 457, SFL 198, TWC 518
“Pues si vivimos/When We Are Living” SNC 193
“Faithful Family” (Gather Comprensive 413)
The bulletin insert for Family Sunday listed various family ministries in the church, and also offered other suggestions for families:
- Give thanks to God for the good things about your family.
- Start a prayer list for needs in your family.
- If your marriage or family relationships need help, see the pastor or contact a Christian counselor (include suggested counseling center).
- Reflect on Deuteronomy 6:4-25 and discuss how your daily life and conversation can reinforce God’s presence and Christ’s lordship in your family.
- Visit the church library together for some family-friendly resources (the back side of the bulletin insert listed suggestions from the church librarians).
- Affirm that all of us—singles, married couples, children, young people, and seniors—are a vital part of God’s family. This week give thanks for the gifts each contributes to the family of God.
WEEK 4 : SUNDAY SUNDAY
The name “Sundae Sunday” is intended to be both invitational and casual. The banner on our front lawn, which was duplicated in flyers for the community, included clip art of an ice cream sundae with “Join Us for Sundae Sunday” in large letters. “Community Welcome” and “Casual Dress” filled out the upper corners of the banner; the date, service times, and website address were at the bottom.
This is a great Sunday to describe, perhaps during the offering, one of the community ministries the church supports. We also wanted to highlight some of our “entry level” programs, so we preprinted nametags for members that said things like, “Ask me about Divorce Care” or “Ask me about Children’s Ministry” or “Ask me about the contemporary service.”
2 Samuel 6:12-23; Luke 15:1-10
Sermon Notes: “Celebrate!”
We wanted to end our August Adventures with a celebrative and joyful tone, so we chose two Scripture passages that led us in that direction. Our reading of Luke 15 was a dramatic monologue by the director of youth and young adult ministries.
The Samuel passage tells of David’s celebration when the ark of the covenant was finally brought to Jerusalem. The description and story of the ark makes for fascinating background in this sermon. (See Numbers 10, Joshua 6, Judges 20, 1 Samuel 4-6 for additional Scriptural background.)
Then bring in the story of 2 Samuel 6, climaxing with David’s no-holds-barred dance of joy as the ark-parade arrived in his city. God is a God of celebration—not the God who’s always sad or mad, as some people picture him. God rejoices when people turn to him and revels when sinners come home.
1 Chronicles 16 provides a great conclusion to the sermon—as a unison or pulpit reading. Or sing a setting of Psalm 96 that is duplicated in this passage, the psalm David wrote for the occasion of the ark’s entrance.
“When Morning Gilds the Sky” PsH 438, PH 487, RL 365, TH 167, TWC 99
“Lord of the Dance”
“Come, We Who Love the Lord” RL 576, TH 700, TWC 22
“This Little Light of Mine”
“Sing to God with Joy” SNC 29
“Laudate Dominum/Sing, Praise and Bless the Lord” SNC 30
“Come, Praise God! Sing Hallelujah” SNC 38
We did not prepare a bulletin insert or request a specific response for the final Sunday of August Adventures. We did borrow from the free-church/ ethnic-church tradition of responding to the sermon orally by echoing the pastor in words of celebration: “Amen! Praise the Lord! God is good!” The enthusiastic response was a fitting end to our month-long adventure and focus on evangelism.
- Week 1: Member Sunday. Ask church members to make a special effort to attend, perhaps even coming back early from vacation or forgoing a get-away weekend.
- Week 2: Friend Sunday. Members invite non-churched friends to attend worship.
- Week 3: Family Sunday. Members and friends invite immediate and extended family members to worship and sit together.
- Week 4: Sundae Sunday. Members and friends invite the neighborhood for worship and ice cream.
Ten Friendliness Tips
The following tips were included one or two at a time in the bulletin several weeks before the series started. On Member Sunday, we included all ten tips.
- Share a hymnal. If someone arrives late and sits on your pew, share your open hymnal and find your place in another hymnal.
- Smile. Look for people you don’t recognize and welcome them with a warm smile.
- Plan to come early. Arriving just a few minutes early gives you the opportunity to look out for guests and welcome them.
- Park farther away, if you are able. An open space near the front door starts off a guest’s visit with ease.
- Don’t smother guests. Be sensitive to those who wish to remain anonymous or quiet. Be friendly and approachable, but give visitors their space if they need it.
- Invite guests to sit with you. When you see someone you don’t recognize looking for a seat, invite him or her to join you.
- Introduce yourself first. Don’t wait for an awkward moment or wonder if the other person might be a member you don’t recognize. Just start out, “Hi, I’m . . .”
- Plan to stay later. Hang around for the lemonade or the meal and get to know someone new.
- Ask questions. Find out about their family, work, neighborhood, hobbies . . . show real interest in real people.
- Report to the pastor. Use e-mail, a yellow “pew to pulpit” card, or the phone to let one of the pastors know what you have learned about our guests.
John Williamson Nevin
In his book Anxious Bench, John Williamson Nevin articulated a Reformed understanding of evangelism in the mid-nineteenth century. Nevin reacted to the excesses of the Second Great Awakening and later joined Philip Schaff as primary spokesmen for the Mercersburg Theology. Mercersburg swung the pendulum of the Reformed Church away from revivalism and toward liturgy and history before its Old Reformed opponents offered an antithesis that forced an eventual compromise.
Nevin’s negative evaluation of revivalism in the early years, however, suggested a positive summary of the Reformed view of evangelism:
- The initiative for personal and corporate spiritual awakening comes from God, not humans.
- Evangelistic efforts must replace emotional and experiential manipulation with appeals based on reason and will.
- Current fads in evangelistic methodology must be evaluated against the long view of Christian history.
- Genuine faith must be measured against Scripture and the historic faith, not against a willingness to follow contemporary methods.
- Evangelistic methods need to pass the tests of logic and time.
- Evangelism must be carried out in an orderly way, appropriate biblically and culturally.
Repeated Service Elements
Prayer of Confession
Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity
and cleanse me from my sin.
Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
—Psalm 51:1-2, 10, NIV
Assurance of Pardon
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart,
O God, you will not despise.
—Psalm 51:17, NIV
Let those who take refuge in the Lord be glad;
let them ever sing for joy.
May God spread his protection over you.
that all who love God’s name may rejoice.
Surely God blesses the righteous
and surrounds them with his favor.
—based on Psalm 5:11-12