It was just before sunrise this past Easter Sunday morning. 100+ neighbors gathered in the predawn light in a public green space near our home to commemorate and celebrate the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. There was excitement. There was joy. There was community. There were donuts. There was the resurrected Jesus on the loose in the neighborhood.
And there were Baptisms... seven of them... two families who live in the neighborhood and who are now citizens of the same Kingdom. There was water and the Word. There were covenant promises made by the Father. There were smiles, and tears and laughter. And hugs... lots and lots of hugs.
This was the fifth year we've had Easter Sunrise in the Neighborhood. I get asked a lot, "How does that happen?" How does 100+ neighbors gathering before sunrise happen?? (Full disclosure: When I was the pastor of a local church we could never even get 100 members to a sunrise service!) How does having seven neighbors ask for Baptism happen?? Facebook comments were excited when I posted pictures later that day. People wrote things like, "That is simply amazing!" "So awesome!" "Wow! Like the early Church!"
Friends across the country were blessed to know what Jesus was up to in our neighborhood.
But that's just it. There is no reason this should be a unique or amazing story in my particular neighborhood. This could be normal. This kind of story could be status quo for Easter morning in our neighborhoods all over the country. (Yes, I know Midwest, you alway like to point to the challenge of your Easter weather. Got it. So, instead of 100 in a green space, change the narrative to 20 in a warm space. :)
Allow me to take the mystery (and fear) out of being a neighborhood missionary. It really does boil down to this: do you want to see more unbaptized people baptized in the next year? Start investing in friendships with a couple unbaptized people beginning this week.
Going to church every Sunday doesn't make you a missionary.
Having mission passion and a mission strategy doesn't make you a missionary.
One thing makes you a missionary... do you have a growing friendship with Jesus and with an unbaptized person or two? You see, it really does boil down to actual time spent with actual unbaptized people... having fun, having a meal, having a conversation, enjoying them as a person of value. Not for hours and hours every week. They probably don't want to be with you that much! But some time every couple weeks invested in the friendship.
Fun Fact: There are approximately 7.2 billion people on the face of the earth currently. Of those 7.2 billion people, 2.2 billion are Christian. That leaves 5 billion preChristian, unbaptized people for the 2.2 billion Christians. Sounds overwhelming, right? "Let's all head out this week and shoot for about a million unbelievers each. We'll report back next Sunday and see how we did!" Sounds crazy.
But how does the math really work out? Do you know how many preChristian, unbaptized people there are per Christian on the earth? It's about two each. Two. 5 billion divided by 2.2 billion = about 2 people each. Two preChristian, unbaptized people for each Christian. Hmmm... two isn't so crazy. In fact, two is doable.
What might happen if over the next year each Christian were to invest in friendships with 2 unbaptized people?
So what is your church's mission/outreach/evangelism strategy for the next year? What if you put that on hold and shifted the strategy to simply this: over the next year each member offers friendship to two unbaptized people who are already living/working/playing nearby. Meet them, find out their names, eat with them, laugh and visit with them. Find out their story. Find out what they think, what matters to them, what makes them mad, what they value, what they hope. It's simpler than we think and a lot more fun.
And share your story, too. Who you are. What you feel. Who you lean on. Not all at once. But as the conversation invites it. It takes time. Be patient. Enjoy it. (Remember, Jesus has got this. He is just ahead of you not just behind.)
After one year, if you have 100 people in church, there could be friendships with 200 unbaptized people in the neighborhoods. What other strategy offers such potential? What program could you substitute that results in 100 Christians having friendships with 200 unbaptized neighbors?
Will all 200 people want to be baptized in a year? No. But here's how this math works: no friendships with unbaptized people = the number of adult baptisms you saw last year. 200 friendships with unbaptized people = more than you saw last year.
So here's the new Easter Sunday 2017 BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal): two friends who just happen to be unbaptized.
Ready, set, go.