The Schuhmachers were a fine young couple with two children. Although Mr. Schuhmacher had a deeply ingrained smoking habit, he was trying to overcome it, and both he and his wife had expressed an interest in receiving the missionary lessons. After they had received the first two or three discussions, we invited them to attend church with us, the next Sunday being fast Sunday.
We took them to Sunday School and afterwards asked them how they enjoyed it. Their response was quite enthusiastic. The next step appeared to be obvious: urge them to stay for fast and testimony meeting. With some reluctance they agreed. The meeting was extremely spiritual but extended to nearly two hours, and we could see their young children becoming very restless.
After the meeting we inquired how they had enjoyed testimony meeting. Now the reply was less enthusiastic; in fact, it was rather cool as Mr. Schuhmacher replied: “That’s too much church for one day. We hadn’t planned on being gone that long. After not having attended our own church for several years, today’s been too much for us!”
We were disappointed when they informed us they’d prefer to come to church on their own initiative next time.
There are many Schuhmachers in our own cities and neighborhoods. They’re great people, yes—they’re children of God—but many of them don’t know it yet. Many of the Schuhmachers in your city were reared in homes where the Sabbath was a time of recreation, of visiting movie theaters, ball parks, golf courses, and boating marinas. Sunday was the day to mow the lawn, paint the house, wash the car, and enjoy a few beers while watching the ball game on television.
How, then, can we reach the Schuhmachers in our branches and wards? First of all, we need to “look at the rabbit stew from the rabbit’s point of view.” For us to abruptly invite the Schuhmachers to church without considerable preparation would make them as uncomfortable as we would be if they invited us to go on a Sunday picnic. We need to begin working with them where they are, not where we’d like them to be. And, of course, all of our efforts should be grounded in our love for and friendship with the “Schuhmachers.”
A few years ago Brother Ernest Eberhard, Jr., provided us with a number of excellent suggestions for sharing the gospel with our neighbors. (Ensign, June 1974, pp. 6–11.) Some of the preliminary steps to inviting friends to church included: (1) making sure they’re friends—getting well acquainted before urging them to come to church or listen to the missionary discussions; (2) inviting them into your home or going out together on a strictly social basis; (3) giving them something to read, such as one of the Church magazines or missionary pamphlets; (4) inviting them to attend and participate in family home evening, Church auxiliary meetings, firesides, and Church socials. With such groundwork carefully, prayerfully laid, the invitation to friends to attend Sunday School or sacrament meeting will be but a logical extension of a growing friendship.
For a man who spends each Sunday working in the yard, an invitation to the stake farm might be more readily accepted than an invitation to sacrament meeting. The woman who golfs, swims, or plays tennis may be more responsive to an invitation to play volleyball with the Relief Society sisters than to attend Sunday School. The husband might be invited, according to his talents, to play on the ward softball team, play the guitar, or write a skit for the elders quorum party. The wife might be invited to attend the homemaking lesson in Relief Society, and after that, cultural refinement, social relations, and then spiritual living.
Husbands and wives should be consulted for permission for their children to attend Cub Scout meetings, Primary, and Mutual. What parents would not be proud of a son or daughter with a role in the roadshow?
Visits to Church historical sites, temples, visitor centers, and “Meet the Mormons” open houses in local chapels afford additional opportunities for introducing the gospel “line upon line.”
Neighborhood parties are helpful in introducing nonmembers to other members of the church, as well as in building neighborhood relationships. Borrowing and lending lawn mowers and cups of sugar and baking apple pies may help to cement relationships. And then, at the appropriate time, after fasting and prayerful preparation, we can ask: “Ruth and Bill, how would you like to come to Sunday School with us next Sunday morning?” If the groundwork has been properly laid, they’ll feel perfectly at home there, because that’s where their friends are.
To avoid the kind of problem we had with the Schuhmachers, let them know what to expect at the meetings so their minds can be at ease. A few days prior to Sunday, inform a few members of the branch or ward that you’ll be bringing some friends with you to church. Though members are usually cordial without such a reminder, it nevertheless helps our friends to feel at home when they are greeted graciously by the Saints.
Sometimes we unwittingly become defensive about our church meetings, which may occasionally be punctuated by a baby’s cry. Instead of apologizing for such an incident, we should assure our nonmember neighbors that our religion espouses the eternal nature of the family unit, and that we attend church as families—including the babies.
When a youngster falters during a brief talk in Sunday School or sacrament meeting we can assure our friends that the Church is for the perfecting of the Saints (see Eph. 4:12), and we feel everyone needs to participate in order to grow spiritually.
When friendly Saints address our neighbors as “Brother and Sister Jones” they need not feel offended, for the Church helps us understand that we’re all one family, children of the same Heavenly Father. You’ll find that most people will actually enjoy being greeted as brothers and sisters.
Our foyers are filled with animated discussions following meetings, and we might point out to our friends that Church members are truly glad to see each other within the common bonds of gospel love. We don’t mean to be irreverent in our foyers, but we do want to demonstrate our love and common concern for each other.
We sometimes live our lives as if the only messages we sent to others were those sent through the spoken word. However, any couple in love can tell you that eyes and sighs and smiles and frowns communicate a great deal, even though a word is never spoken. What do our neighbors see when we take our families to church? Is it a three-ring circus, with father shouting orders to hurry up and get into the car as mother frantically tries to button the baby’s coat while simultaneously turning off the lights and closing the front door? Do we come home from church and heave a big sigh of relief as our neighbors sun themselves on their patio and overhear us exclaim: “Wow, I thought that speaker would never finish his talk—it would have helped if he’d been prepared.” Have we at times complained to our neighbors that our Church assignments are too demanding? Or have we sent signals that we’re truly appreciative and extremely happy to be serving the Lord?
That great missionary, the apostle Paul, knew long before social psychologists who study interpersonal attraction that we tend to be attracted to individuals whose values, attitudes, and ideas are similar to our own. For this reason Paul said:
“For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more.
“And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; …
“To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.” (1 Cor. 9:19–20, 22.)
His example is clear. The responsibility is upon us to invite everyone. It is incumbent upon us to reach out to all our neighbors and work associates. Sometimes that may involve adopting a “low profile” in approaching those who are shy. With other friends we may need to be more outgoing. But remember, we need to become friends before we can effectively share the gospel.
Despite the fact that our goal should be to invite everyone into the Kingdom, some fields are whiter and more ready to harvest than others. We learned a valuable lesson in this regard while attending graduate school at an Eastern university. We had introduced a few fellow students to the missionaries, but were never successful in inviting them to church. We later realized that we had spent too much time working with people who, at that point in time, were more concerned with their academic pursuits than with things of the Spirit. Our immediate neighbors proved to be more receptive to the gospel at that particular time.
One of Satan’s techniques for thwarting the work of the Lord is to convince members and missionaries alike that certain individuals who decline invitations to attend church or to hear the gospel discussions “have had their chance.” The number of converts to the Church who have “gone through” several sets of missionaries emphasizes the fact that none of us can judge when another person has had an adequate opportunity to hear and accept the gospel.
The apostle Paul observed: “I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase.” (1 Cor. 3:6.) What if Apollos had failed to make efforts with those who were not converted with Paul’s initial contact? Some of us become discouraged when our gospel green thumbs don’t seem to bear fruit. Often some soul-searching will reveal that our approach has been ill timed or hastily planned, or perhaps that we were anxious to accept the credit for a future conversion, even though God gives the increase.
The Lord’s magnificent admonition on priesthood leadership seems also to have application to our strivings to bring others into the Kingdom. Our invitations should be extended “only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile.” (D&C 121:41–42.)
His promise to us when we faithfully engage in conscientious missionary work will help sustain our proselyting efforts:
“For I will forgive you of your sins with this commandment—that you remain steadfast in your minds in solemnity and the spirit of prayer, in bearing testimony to all the world of those things which are communicated unto you.” (D&C 84:61.)