Ted is an ex-hippie from San Francisco who used to run sound for the Grateful Dead. He moved to Las Vegas for the warm, dry climate.
I moved to Las Vegas to start a church— a church just off the Vegas Strip that fully embraces Jesus’ mission of seeking and saving the lost.
A church for people who don’t like church; a church for people who have never gone to church or have been turned off by church.
Our church was four years old when someone invited Ted. He had no interest, so it was an easy no. He was invited again, another easy no.
He was invited again, and again, and again. He kept saying no. But finally he wanted to put an end to the invitations, so he came.
He had no experience in church and no interest in coming a second time.
We had no idea Ted was coming, but we were totally ready for him.
We’re always ready for new un-churched or anti-churched non-Christians to show up.
From the placement of welcoming volunteers, to the music we have playing in the lobby, to how we start our services, it’s all designed to help people feel welcomed and accepted so they’ll feel like they can relate to us and like they belong.
Ted rode up on his motorcycle and walked in with all his cynicism and doubt and with no intention of ever coming back.
After the service, Ted told a guy in the tech booth he’d be willing to come back the next week and help run sound.
The next week Ted sat at the production meeting before our service.
Before we talk through the elements of our service, we always recognize and cheer for any new volunteer.
So we cheered for Ted. (That was normal.) Ted blushed a little. (Also normal.) Then he gave a little speech. (Not normal.)
“Thank you,” he said. “I came here to get someone off my back. I’m not a church person, and didn’t think I’d like it at all, but I did.
But I just want to be up front with you guys. I don’t believe any of the stuff you believe. But I’m hoping maybe your faith rubs off on me.”
I decided that if this guy was willing to say all that in front of everyone, I could ask him a question in front of everyone. I asked, “Ted, if you don’t believe any of this, why did you come back?”
“Well, I …” Ted paused. “I’ve never felt as loved as I do here.”
The way we say it is “Lead with love.”
Everyone needs two things: they need truth for life, and they need to be loved. What we as Christians have to offer is truth and love. We have what people need.
But to reach people who are far from God, we must start with love.
Starting with truth shuts people down and turns them away. Starting with love opens people up and draws them to Jesus.
The cool thing is that we’ve seen hundreds of people come to faith through our “lead with love” strategy. I share a bunch of those stories in my book God for the Rest of Us.
And that’s exactly what happened with Ted.
He first showed up in early October.
In late January I preached a sermon challenging people to “bet their lives on Jesus.” (I’m in Vegas; people here understand gambling metaphors.)
“We all bet our lives on something,” I said.
“We seek our identity and meaning from something. We pour our lives into something. We’re trusting something with our lives and for our eternity. Make Jesus your something. Bet your life on Jesus.”
I led people who wanted to make Jesus their Savior and Lord in a prayer and asked them to sign up for the baptisms that would be happening the following week.
After the service Ted asked, “Where do I sign up? I’m all in.”
It had happened in four months. In that time he read the Bible every day.
He dove into serving. He made some friends.
One of our pastors shared the gospel with him over coffee. But mostly, he had felt loved, and he had learned about and experienced the love of God.
The next weekend, before he was baptized, Ted shared his story.
He talked for fourteen minutes! He ended by saying, “I just can’t believe God loves me. I can’t believe God would want a guy like me. I finally found what I’ve been looking for.”
Make It Easy
It’s been almost a year, and Ted has been growing like crazy.
Part of the reason he’s been growing is the second half of our strategy in leading people without faith to become all-in followers of Jesus.
The way we say it is “Make it easy.”
If you’re coming from an unchurched background and decide to put your faith in Jesus, what comes next is intimidating.
You’ve never prayed; now you’re supposed to start.
You’ve probably never given money; now there’s an expectation you’ll give a chunk of your salary every week.
You’ve never shared your faith (until just recently you’ve never had faith), but now there’s an urgency to tell everyone about Jesus.
You’ve never read a Bible–a huge old book with lots of talk about circumcision-but now you should be reading it every day as part of something people refer to as one of the “spiritual disciplines” you do as part of a “quiet time.”
How do you do all that?
It’s quite a challenge, which is why we try to make it easy.
We don’t make it easy to say yes to following Jesus.
He didn’t make that easy for people, and we don’t take any of the gravity away from it; it’s life’s most important decision, and people need to count the cost.
But once they make that decision, we want to make the next steps in their spiritual journey as easy as possible.
That’s what we did for Ted.
Ted started reading the Bible every day because we gave him the tools and made it easy.
He started bringing his wife and then neighbor to church because we gave him the tools and made it easy.
Ted started serving in our church; we made it easy. He went on a mission trip to Poland this summer.
How did that happen? We made it easy.
And that’s why I have a new book coming out this January called Devo for the Rest of Us: The Next 40 Days on Your Journey of Faith.
I wrote the book to make it easy for a new Christian to establish a daily habit of spending quality time with God.
It equips them with the fundamentals of the faith and with the tools they need to get off to a great start in their new life with Jesus.
At our church we’re going to put it in the hands of every new believer.
Here’s what I know about your church. You’re going to have a Ted show up sometime soon.
Will you be ready?
Will you lead with love so your Ted is drawn to Jesus?
And once your Ted is drawn to Jesus, will you make it easy for him to grow into an all-in follower of Jesus?
Vince Antonucci is the author of Devo for the Rest of Us and God for the Rest of Us, in which he explores God’s audacious love for the lowest, the lostest, and the least of us. (And; yes, he knows that “lostest” is not a real word.)