by Terry W. Frizzell

STUART, Fla. (BNc)- Recently, while listening to a report from a missionary who serves the Lord in Africa, I was somewhat discouraged to learn that the growth of the church in some areas of Africa had slowed dramatically.

What surprised me was not that some churches in Africa had slowed in their growth, but rather the common link that seemed to exist in most of those congregations.

That link, according to this missionary, was that they had hired preachers at those congregations, and the congregation had started depending upon the preacher for outreach and forgotten that outreach is a Christian thing, not a preacher thing.

He was certainly not opposed to having a hired preacher, nor am I, but it makes me wonder if sometimes the preacher becomes a crutch for the congregation.

This made me consider the congregation where I am privileged to serve the Lord, and wonder what simple ideas could be used to help motivate the congregation here to get involved in outreach efforts again rather than depending upon me.

The following is the description of a basic motivational program put together by myself and James Mayo, the preacher for the Jupiter-Tequesta church of Christ in Tequesta, Fla.

There are three main items: an aquarium (ours is 10 gallons in size) and two sand buckets. One sand bucket is always full of shells taken directly from our local beaches and has the following sign on the bucket: “This bucket will always be full. Each shell represents a soul that has not been invited to worship services.”

The second sand bucket is empty and has the following sign on it: “This bucket will never be full. There will always be room in our congregation for every seeking soul.”

Then there is a third sign above the two buckets: “Like shells tossed upon the waves, our friends and neighbors may be broken and lost. Invite them to seek a safe harbor and salvation in Christ. When you invite someone to worship, remove a shell from the full bucket and place it in the empty bucket.”

On Monday mornings I empty the bucket of shells that represents those who have been invited, and place them in the aquarium, which will remain at the front of the auditorium. The congregation will continuously have a reminder of those who have been invited to worship with us.

The congregation has been reminded that it is not our job to force people to visit us, nor is it our job to force people to obey the gospel. However, it is our job as Christians, not simply the preacher’s, to reach out to our community and give them the opportunity to hear the gospel and obey it.

Therefore, each member is being encouraged to invite at least one person every week to worship services, and then to place the shell in the appropriate bucket representing their invitation.

At the end of the year we will have an outreach banquet, at which time we will have a game guessing how many shells are in the aquarium.

We also will dedicate a new shell garden that is being designed and will be built completely out of the shells that represent the souls invited to worship with us.

We hope to continue adding to this garden indefinitely. We have only been involved in this program for a couple of weeks, but we are already averaging approximately 50 souls invited to worship services each week.