Before moving to Centerville, Utah, to plant The Bridge Community, I had the opportunity to attend First Steps training, developed by Gary Rohrmayer, Converge MidAmerica district executive minister. He shared the “law of sowing and reaping,” anchored in Ecclesiastes 11:6: “In the morning sow your seed, and at evening withhold not your hand, for you do not know which will prosper, this or that, or whether both alike will be good” (ESV).
Rohrmayer also mentioned Proverbs 20:4, which says, “The sluggard does not plow in the autumn; he will seek at harvest and have nothing” (ESV).
Christians should have a similar attitude toward planting gospel seeds. We should sow abundantly because we don’t know which gospel seeds will eventually produce fruit.
The farmer works hard, sowing lots of seeds because it is a mystery to him which ones will take root. A person may have many reasons to leave the plow in the barn, but the farmer who does not plant a crop should not be surprised by the nonexistent harvest.
So too, we should not be surprised by nonexistent spiritual harvests if we are not planting gospel seeds.
First Steps helped prepare me for sowing the gospel abundantly. Now, I’m not the guy who leaves a tract on every table in the restaurant when I go out to eat (even if I’m skeptical of that guy’s sowing plan, I at least have to admit he understands the principle). But I try hard to ensure that I’m living the law of sowing and reaping, and that I’m teaching the congregation I serve to do the same.
I certainly don’t pretend to have all the answers on how others should plant gospel seeds, but in some hard soil here in Centerville we’ve been blown away by the harvest the Lord has brought.
There are a few specific practices that help us as individuals and as a congregation plant gospel seeds in others’ lives.
Going public with our faith
Despite being in the United States, The Bridge Community is located among an unreached people group. On any given Sunday morning, only 1 percent of South Davis County worships in a Christian church.
We challenge our congregation to invite people they love — people whom God loves — to come to church. We talk about having an inviting culture and try to support individuals in this endeavor. We provide our people with invitation cards to use throughout the year that helps them to share our website, service times and address. We also print invitation cards for big days like Easter and Christmas.
I preach with those in mind that I hope our congregation will invite. On their way home, I want our people thinking, “I wish ______ would have been there to hear that message today.” The more our people trust our preaching and genuinely want their friends to be here with us, the more likely they’ll invite others.
Aside from helping people invite others to church, we encourage them to go public with their faith. We especially stress this when people are baptized. Individuals make a baptism testimony video, which they can use to easily share their story with family and friends.
We challenge our congregation to invite people they love — people whom God loves — to come to church. We talk about having an inviting culture and try to support individuals in this endeavor.
We also hope people will post pictures and thoughts about church on social media. Sometimes we create content and ask people to share it.
It’s amazing how many of our people have had friends comment to them in the real world after seeing things they’ve posted online.
As people go public with their faith, we stress the need to be real. That means we share our struggles, doubts, faith and joy with people around us. We celebrate the spiritual wins and ask people to pray for us.
That isn’t typical of the highly religious culture in our community. We plant gospel seeds by helping people around us see our love for Jesus and our hope in his grace, despite our failings.
Reaching our unreached neighbors
The vast majority of people around us are not Christian, nor have they ever attended a Christian church. There are a few things we’ve tried to do to help raise awareness about our church in the community and to help people feel more comfortable taking that first step into our door.
We send lots of postcards. I know I’m not breaking new ground with this, but in our environment they are still relatively effective because no other churches here send mailers. We also send “new mover” cards each month to hundreds of people moving into the area. These help us connect with them and become known.
We are also visible at community-wide events. We have had floats in the Fourth of July parade and booths at the county fair. Each summer we bring our popcorn popper to the city movies in the park series and give away popcorn.
Help them take the next step – without it feeling like a giant leap
For many people at our church, The Bridge Community is the first non-Latter-day Saints church in which they have ever set foot. Some congregants have described the nervousness, raised heartbeat and shaky feeling they experienced on their first visit. With those feelings in mind, we’ve tried to help people ease into our church.
We post on our website our full worship service each week (not just the sermon), so that people can know what to expect when they eventually join us in person. In addition, our sermons air on the local AM radio station each day at 5 p.m. to catch people during their drive time.
We have a commitment to preach the gospel every Sunday. We go deep in the Word, but never neglect the good news.
We also make sure to hold events that encourage people to check out our church. Our Vacation Bible School is disproportionally large for our church. We’ve seen several LDS members take new steps of faith here after becoming comfortable enough with us to go beyond VBS. We also host Financial Peace University as a way to help people see our church as a community center.
Of course, once people are aware we’re here and find the courage to come, we must deliver the goods. We have to plant the gospel seed.
We have a commitment to preach the gospel every Sunday. We go deep in the Word, but never neglect the good news. We not only faithfully preach the gospel, but we try to make it easy for people to take their next step of faith. We do that by offering clear pathways into discipleship and serving.
Whether sowing gospel seeds in the lives of our family, friends and neighbors or inviting others to join us at church so that they can hear a clear presentation of the gospel, we are excited to do so. We know that it is only by planting seeds that we will see the harvest.
Loren Pankratz, Pastor of The Bridge Community
Loren Pankratz is pastor of The Bridge Community, Centerville, Utah.