The church in Anaheim Hills is flourishing with multiple unbelievers attending regularly and new believers getting ready to join. When asked, "What do you attribute this to?" Pastor Chris Hartshorn's response was multi-faceted and full of insights for us.
Clearly God had been working behind the scenes. Hartshorn adds, "the situation with the patio furniture was actually taking a long time. There was a lot of waiting around. Megan could have gotten frustrated, but instead she saw an opportunity and took the time to engage Luis. That's the kind of person she is. She is always ready to engage others, whether it be with a friendly smile or a meaningful interaction." Because of Megan's willingness to be used of God, Luis came to church for the first time. And once there, he kept coming. Hartshorn has been meeting with Luis on a regular basis and he is in membership classes right now. Luis even brought a friend who hadn't been to church since she was a little girl. They are going through the Confessing Christ book together, and Hartshorn expects that both Luis and his friend will make public professions of faith and be baptized soon.
Another story is that of Scott, a Mormon raised in Utah who moved in next door to the Hartshorns a few months back. Scott always had a nagging sense that he wasn't good enough, and that he could never do enough good works to be saved. Church each week was a heaping on of condemnation, and Scott got to the place where he said, "if I'm going to go to hell, just let me go there in peace."
"But," Scott shares, "when I moved next door to the Hartshorns, I saw something real being lived out- something that I wanted. I saw what it looks like to be Christ-like, and I saw love. It was what I had been looking for my whole life. And then when they invited me to church, I heard the glorious gospel message, and I came to realize that I don't have to be good enough, because Christ has done it all."
Scott was recently baptized at AHPC, and is zealous in sharing his faith with others and inviting them to church. "My faith was once a burdensome thing, and an unwelcome obligation, but now that I have the true Christ, it is a wonderful privilege and opportunity to worship and to serve and to share." Scott admits that he is far from perfect, but he says, "at least I sleep well at night now."
The stories of church members inviting unbelievers to worship don't stop there. One of the women in the church has invited a friend who comes to worship 3 out of every 4 weeks. Hartshorn shares that the friend "doesn't buy it yet, but he is captivated and intrigued by the message of the Bible and preaching. He used to think he was a Christian, but now he understands that there's more to it than he thought." Another brother of a family in the church has been attending. He's had some rough things in his past, including jail time, but he seems to desire a positive change. Hartshorn shares that he also knows of two unbelievers watching their worship services online. They are fellow dads that he knows from his son's baseball team. One of them has shared with Chris, "I want to believe, I just don't know how to do it."
"We are trying to work into the culture of our church intentional thoughts about how an unbeliever thinks. We're asking ourselves, 'how do we meet unbelievers where they are, and engage them both compassionately and winsomely? When they come to worship, how can we best be patient, loving, and accepting?' We know most of them have no reformed background whatsoever. We won't water down our theology or remove any piece of our reformed confession, so then, how can we better explain liturgy or terminology? How do we engage with unbelievers' false conceptions or assumptions about the church? These are all things we're constantly working on doing better. Fundamentally, we're trying to reach people that aren't like us. And in order to do so, we need to think differently."
Hartshorn is also leading a Sunday School class on evangelism to further knit this important practice into the hearts and minds of the flock. He tells of some push back he has received for this persistent focus, but the neat way it has gradually been overcome. One instance was with a man who was upset after Sunday School class one day. He went home, re-read the passages they discussed and prayed about it. Eventually he realized that the things shared were true. Particularly, what was discussed that day was the necessity of discipleship and evangelism in the life of a believer.
Perhaps these words will come as a challenge to us as well. With an air of urgency, Hartshorn emphasizes, "Being willing to talk to people about our faith and how it affects our lives is not an optional part of discipleship. It is indispensable. We need to be willing to wrestle with the truth that we are called to share our faith. In our age today, I believe that people see coming to Christ as just another choice we make, like buying a car. Instead, we need to see our relationship with him as the foundational element of all our life and all our choices. And if our Christianity is not just another choice, then in all of our relationships, people ought to see evidence of this. Our faith is the center of who we are and so many of us are hiding it. That is the essence of worldliness. The world says 'don’t share faith or politics', but the Bible doesn't say that. The Bible says, 'always be ready to give an answer...' If Christ is central in our lives, then that should come flowing out in all our interactions."
Some churches may hear what Anaheim Hills is doing and wonder what God would have them do to work in their church in the same way. "What's most important," says Hartshorn, "is that people pray. Prayer is central. We are all totally inadequate and insufficient in ourselves. We need to lead and saturate all we do in prayer."