Monday, September 17, 2012

Using Religious Ceremonies as Outreach Tools – Part One

Historically, church buildings have often been the center for religious ceremonies in the communities they served. Religious ceremonies include weddings, funerals, child dedications, baptisms, baccalaureate programs, Christmas Eve services, and other similar events. Small churches have historically hosted such events for the entire community, not just for the members of the church. There might have been limits to the types of ceremonies that each church was willing to sponsor, but in general, most community religious ceremonies occurred inside a church building.

As communities have become more secular, fewer people are coming to church than in the past. Some churches inadvertently contribute to the trend of people falling away from the church by enacting strict rules about who can participate in religious ceremonies that are held in their buildings. Such churches often fail to realize that many secular people, especially those from a postmodern perspective, still desire to take part in religious ceremonies even though they seem more distant from God than ever before. 

Though this may seem strange from an anthropological perspective, from a spiritual perspective, it makes perfect sense if we look at it from a theological perspective. God has designed us as spiritual beings made in His image. Romans 8:29-30 says: For those He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brothers. And those He predestined, He also called; and those He called, He also justified; and those He justified, He also glorified (NIV). This passage indicates that God knew who would respond to the gospel, and He has called those people to Himself.  Therefore, it makes sense that even though some people may have a secular worldview, if God is calling them to salvation, there will be a God-initiated desire in them for a relationship with God even though they are not yet Christians. Their interest in religious ceremonies is one piece of evidence that God is calling them to Himself.

Healthy churches are careful not to stand in the way of what God may be doing. Church leaders would be wise to think carefully and pray earnestly about how they can engage the next generation in as many religious ceremonies as possible.

There will be limits on which religious ceremonies nonbelievers can take part in, but allowing them to take part in some ceremonies inside the church building is important. For example, an evangelical church would not allow non-Christians to be baptized, but they might allow them to have a wedding or a funeral in the church building. Likewise, an evangelical church would not want non-Christians to take communion but might allow them to dedicate their children to the Lord if they understand what they are doing. Church leaders should consider the theological implications of allowing people who are not yet Christians to participate in various ceremonies. However, leaders should keep in mind that many people will not choose to become Christians until they feel they are accepted by the group. Allowing them to take part in as many religious ceremonies as possible, without violating the church’s theological foundation, is an important aspect of helping them learn about the Lord and feel part of the group.

The above article is adapted from Terry Dorsett’s book, Mission Possible: Reaching
the Next Generation through the Small Church, published by CrossBooks.

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