Fasten your seat belt, friend, because this is the most high powered approach we have. I do not know anything that works better than giving Friday nights to Jesus. Giving Friday nights to Jesus will reach more people in less time than any method I know. In fact, if you give Friday nights to Jesus and your class does not double in two years or less, it probably can't be done.
The really unbelievable thing is that giving Friday nights to Jesus is more fun than Six Flags. You wouldn't think a ministry could be so effective and be so much fun. But isn't it just like God to make something so enjoyable and so effective at the same time. Sometimes, he makes it easy for us to "Rejoice in the Lord always." (Philippians 4:4)
We didn't dream this ministry up, God lead us into it through his sovereign working out of the circumstances of our lives. And if I had not seen it in action, I may have never been convinced of its effectiveness. Here is how it works.
We used to have our friends over on Friday nights to play cards. We would have dessert, tell jokes, and play games together. One day I suggested to my wife that we invite a couple who had visited the church to join us on Friday night. We did, and we had a good time in the process. During the entire evening, we never said anything about church or Sunday school or the Bible or anything remotely religious. But, do you know what? They joined the church in a few weeks. Now, he is teaching a class himself. And they would both tell you that they were not living the disciple's life before they played cards and ate dessert with us that night.
A few weeks later, we invited another couple over. We played cards, we laughed, we ate dessert, we had a good time. Guess what? After a few weeks, they joined the church and became very active in the group now. They too would tell you they were not living the disciple's life before we played cards with them.
After six months of this, I did a little research. I discovered that forty-five couples who would have been prospects for out class had visited the church during that time. We were able to have ten couples to our house to play cards. Nine out of these ten joined the church and became involved in the class. Out of the remaining thirty-five, only three had joined. I don't know of any method more effective in assimilating visitors than this hospitality ministry.
That is why I say, if you want to double your class every two years or less, give Friday nights to Jesus. Have your friends over. Play cards. Eat dessert. Tell jokes. Laugh. Have a good time. But most of all, include an outsider couple. Ministry has never been so much fun.
George Barna's research indicates that 7% of the unchurched plan to attend church this year.(1) If churches were consistently giving Friday nights to Jesus, we could see 90% of them stay. At least 5% of the unchurched would come into the church each year. Another 33% of the unchurched are open to attending church. The most likely thing to attract them is the invitation of a friend.(2) When they do come, we need to have a strategy to get them to stick. We need to become a Velcro church rather than a Teflon church. Rick Warren says, "For your church to grow you must be nice to people when they show up."(3) The best way to do that is to give Friday nights to Jesus.
This ministry is based on sound church growth thinking: people are not interested in a friendly church; they are looking for friends.(4) That is what we were to the couples we had over to our house. We were friends to them, and they were friends to us. When we had our babies, they were at the hospital. They became our friends. William Hendricks discovered that people who leave the church often do so because they hunger for community. "They dream of being a part of an intimate group of believers," he writes. "They want to share life together with a handful of others where they can know and be known."(5) Giving Friday nights to Jesus creates the kind of community that people long for.
Let me answer a couple of obvious questions. No, it does not have to be on Friday night. You do not have to play cards. You might take people out to lunch. You might go bowling or play golf. You might go out after church with them. But, do something fun with them. Do whatever you do with your friends. But include some outsiders in your life. These outsiders may be newcomers to the faith, or believers who are moving to town.
You might wonder about the difference between this ministry and the ministry of inviting every member and every prospect to every fellowship every month. There is some overlap, at least as to function. Nevertheless, there are also some differences. The monthly fellowships are events that the whole class and all prospects are invited to attend. Friday nights for Jesus is a more informal get-together with a handful of friends. It is this informality and friendliness that give it its power. As soon as it becomes a big formal affair it is dead. This is the life of the body lived out in small groups, that outsiders are invited to join.
I used to teach a fourth grade boys Sunday school class. Giving Friday nights to Jesus was effective for them--only I did it Tuesday afternoons. The most effective outreach I had with those guys had nothing to do with the class time. Every Tuesday afternoon I would take them out for a Coke. (This was before I discovered Diet Coke.) I would listen to them and try to get into their world. This too is an example of giving Friday nights to Jesus. Not surprisingly, some of these boys came to faith in Christ.
Some churches have a budget line item for the Pastor to take people to lunch. This is another example of "giving Friday nights to Jesus." It is one of the best investments a church can make. Granted, it costs money, but the souls are worth it. I am betting 90% of them will move on in the disciple making process if we will buy them pizza. Besides, the average family of four who attends our church regularly gives $2000 a year, so the dinner budget is well worth it. Cast your bread upon the water and it will come back to you. (Ecclesiastes 11:1)
The hard work of having fun
Don't get the idea that this is all fun and games. It is not. It is hard work having fun. When you give Friday nights to Jesus, someone has to make the coffee cake. Someone has to buy the Diet Coke. Someone has to vacuum the floor and clean the kitchen. Someone has to call the guests and friends. As I said earlier, every good idea degenerates into work. Planning is the easy part. Getting ready for the fun is work.
Let me say a word to the husbands and wives reading: don't make your spouse do all the work. It is too much work getting ready for the party for one person to do it all.
I used to wonder why all this has to be done. I wondered why the master bath shower had to be cleaned when we are having company. I have asked my wife, "Why do we need to clean the bathroom shower? They are not going to be in the shower. They are going to be in the living room eating coffee cake, or at the dining room table playing cards. They are not going to see the shower." I have never gotten a satisfactory answer to this question. I just clean the shower and smile and say, "The shower is clean, honey."
I Peter 4:9 commands, "Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling." "Without grumbling" means that sometimes people will come to your house and their rowdy kids will tear up your play room and not offer to clean it up. Offer hospitality without grumbling. Sometimes you will invite people over and they will promise to come and then not show up. Offer hospitality without grumbling. Sometimes they will be social bores, obnoxious, or rude. Offer hospitality without grumbling.
One time we had four couples lined up to come over and play cards. None of them showed up. I got mad. I was disobedient to the command to refrain from grumbling. I got on the phone and called one of them. "Where are you? Why aren't you here?" I really let him have it. He joined the church anyway and has since become a deacon and a Sunday school teacher. That is testimony to the grace of God.
The Bible commands, "Get in the habit of inviting guests home for dinner." (Romans 12:13b, LB) If we will simply do what this command says, we will see tremendous fruit. That is what is all comes down to, doesn't it? Just being obedient to what God called us to do. It is amazing how much of church growth comes down to doing what God told us to do. You Can Double your class in two years or less if someone in your group will give Friday nights to Jesus.
1. George Barna, Evangelism that Works, (Ventura, California: Regal Books, 1995), p. 68.
2. George Barna, Evangelism that Works, (Ventura, California: Regal Books, 1995), p. 70.
3. Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Church (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1995), p. 210.
4. Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Church (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1995), p. 312.
5. William Hendricks, Exit Interviews, (Chicago, Illinois: Moody Press, 1993), p. 260.