Pastor’s Blog

Why “Sunday in the Park”?

 “Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”           – Matthew 28:19-20a

Occasionally, someone will ask: Why do we do Sunday in the Park events? Afterall, it’d be a lot easier and more comfortable to stay inside our sanctuary protected from the weather. It’d be a lot less work for us to stay inside where we didn’t have to do all the setup of tents, tables, band equipment, food preparation, games, etc. It’d be much simpler and cheaper not to do Sunday in the Park. Why do we continue to do this event which takes so much time, resources and energy? Are “Sunday in the Parks” really worth it?

I’m so glad you asked! It’s a great question. For sometimes it is important to remind ourselves why we do certain things and continue to carry out certain traditions, activities, and events – not only as individuals but especially as a church body. “Sunday in the Park” (or as we have sometimes done, “Sunday in the City”) is something we started doing back in June of 1998 at the prompting of some of the seniors in our church family and have now been doing for more than 20 years! It’s become a summer tradition at Grace Church. But why? Why do we do it?

The answer could be summed up in one single word: Outreach. When I came to Grace Church more than 21 years ago now, one of the things I shared with the search committee chaired by the late Wilbur Adams at the time, was that I have a heart for evangelism and a desire for outreach. If I were to come to Grace Church, I would want us to move forward in outreach, see the church grow, and make reaching others for Jesus a number one top priority. Sometimes this involves stepping out of comfort zones and reaching out creatively. Wilbur responded on behalf of the search committee: “That’s exactly what we are looking for!”

How wonderful to serve a church that values reaching others for Jesus above everything else. It’s often been said that the church is one organization that doesn’t exist for her members, but rather for those who are not yet members. That seems to catch the essence of Jesus’ last words on earth: “Go and make disciples of all nations.” In other words, do whatever it takes to introduce people to Jesus because eternal lives are at stake. Jesus died on a cross to save the lost. What are we willing to do? What’s your sacrifice?

Reaching out means we Christians intentionally sacrifice and make ourselves uncomfortable for the sake of making non-believers more comfortable so that they can hear and experience the gospel of Jesus Christ too. It could mean meeting in a non-threatening public place such as a city park rather than in the confines of a comfortable private sanctuary. It might mean singing music that may not be your style in hopes of connecting with those who are unfamiliar with a church organ. It might mean giving someone a free meal so that they could experience God’s unconditional love without question or obligation.

The list goes on of all the many ways and implications of how Jesus’ sacrifice indicts our own sacrifice in order to reach lost people for him. But we must also ask the question: Is what we’re doing effective in reaching people for Jesus? In other words, are visitors and non-churched people actually attending our Sunday in the Park events? If not, we should find another way to reach out. But the answer to that questions is a resounding “yes!” We still average around 40 visitors each time we hold a Sunday in the Park event. In fact, a recent event had around 60 visitors, including many children and youth in attendance!

It’s true that not all these visitors return to worship the following week. This points us to a deeper issue. The challenge with Sunday in the Parks is not in our ability to get visitors to attend; it’s in getting existing members to connect with visitors while they are present. Only by breaking out of familiar relationship circles and mixing with visitors will meaningful relationships begin to form so that visitors might feel inclined to return. When we do open our hands and hearts, however, it works! I can name several people who have come to Grace Church through our Sunday in the Park outreaches. It’s hard to imagine our church without them!

Sunday in the Park is coming! On June 16, we have a terrific opportunity to obey Jesus’ commands, reach people for eternity, share God’s love, extend hospitality, and grow Grace Church! How will you be involved and support this missional event personally? Let us begin by praying, inviting others, passing out flyers, being present, pitching in to help where needed, and mixing with visitors!

Sincerely in Christ,

Pastor Dave Van Netten