Are we inviting the wrong people to our congregations?
This unsettling question arose as I studied Luke 14:7-24 in preparing a recent sermon.
Jesus is at a dinner party and he sees everyone jockeying for the most honorable seats.
He tells them, “Take the lowest seat, that way if the host asks you to take a better seat, you are honored instead of being humiliated when the host tells you to take a lower one.”
He then looks at the host and says, “By the way, next time you throw a party like this, don’t invite all the people who can afford to repay you; invite the poor, the sick and the blind.”
Then, Jesus tells the story of a man who threw a dinner party and was enraged when all the invited guests didn’t show up. He sends servants out to bring in the sick, the outcast and the outsiders until his house was full.
As I reflected on this story, I started thinking about how convicting this passage is to the ways our churches operate, the way we think about church growth and the kinds of people we invite into our sanctuaries.
I tire of reading article after article in which middle-aged and older people write about how to attract millennials to church.
I’m a millennial (granted on the older end of that spectrum), and it’s condescending and off-putting to be treated like a commodity that only the coolest churches have. It’s annoying to be reduced to an age range and to see people talking about how to get us to darken the door of a church.
I’ve often said the churches that attract millennials are the ones that aren’t talking about how to attract millennials.
All of that aside, however, while considering this passage in Luke, I began to wonder: When was the last time I read an article about how to attract the poor into the church?
When was the last widely circulated article written about making our churches more welcoming to the homeless? When was the last time our middle to upper-middle class churches seriously attempted to alter our worship services, our meeting times or, well, anything in order to make our churches more hospitable to the sick, the outcast, the poor or the stranger?
I’ve read a lot of church growth articles and frankly can’t think of one that talks about growing the guest list quite like Jesus did in this passage. Why is that?
Is it because we see millennials as up-and-coming professionals, and as we look at the aging population of our churches, we see that resources are soon to be disappearing? Do we want people in the pews to pay the bills?
If that’s the case, isn’t that exactly what Jesus spoke against here? Don’t invite those who can repay the favor; invite those who can’t.
So, church, maybe we’re inviting the wrong people.
I’m not saying don’t invite young people or rich people, but what if we focused, as Jesus does, on extending welcome to those everyone else has discarded? Wouldn’t that look a little more like the banquet Jesus is going to prepare?
Blake Hart is missions coordinator at the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of South Carolina. A version of this article first appeared on his blog and is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @blake_hart.
Blake Hart is executive director of the Carolina Immigrant Alliance.