Why Fishing Expeditions?

As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee,
he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen.
Mark 1:16 NIV

At Resurrection, we preach five general types of sermons, each playing a different role in our overall purpose, which is “to build a Christian community where non-religious and nominally religious people are becoming deeply committed Christians.” There are sermons aimed at caring for the congregation (pastoral care), sermons designed to take us deeper in our faith (discipleship), sermons focused on purpose, vision and stewardship (institutional development), as well as sermons that prepare us for the work of ministry (equipping/sending). Among the series, however, that are most well-known and have made the greatest contribution to the church’s growth are those we announce on either Christmas Eve or Easter with the specific hope of enticing visitors to come back. The role of this fifth type of sermon is evangelism, and we call these series “fishing expeditions.”

These sermon series are among the greatest contributors to our ability to reach and retain new people who do not already have a church home, and they have helped take us from four members in 1990 to now over 24,000 active members. Coupled with a great worship experience and effective follow-up, they have grown this church and – when done well – they can do the same for yours.

In case you’re unsure, let me just spell out a few of the reasons we would encourage every church to consider “fishing expeditions.”

They sound like something Jesus would do.
Jesus spent most of his adult life and ministry on or around the Sea of Galilee, hanging out with fishermen and often using fishing as a metaphor for the spiritual task of his followers. By the New Testament accounts, “fishing for people” comes straight from Jesus. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus shows that anyone following him is to be seeking those who are lost, left out or left behind; that we are to be drawing them into a community where they are accepted and cared for but also equipped and sent back out to seek others and sacrificially serve the world.

There are natural cycles to fishing.
Most people with experience fishing know that a variety of conditions – weather, water temperature, insect activity, etc. – affect the availability and feeding patterns of fish. Likewise, there are times and places where thoughtful leaders will find higher numbers of people who are not involved in church. There may be other places or seasonal opportunities in your community, but even in our increasingly secular society, significant numbers of non-religious and nominally religious people still visit churches at Easter and Christmas. So, like any wise fisherperson, why wouldn’t you be intentional about fishing when the most fish are available?

Bait matters.
In captivity, some fish will eat just about anything. But in the wild, knowing what fish want to eat makes all the difference. Most non-religious and nominally religious people do not wake up in the morning wondering about the meaning of a particular Bible verse or hoping someone will tell them why they should be living their lives differently. Once we choose to follow Jesus and begin to mature in faith, these become more important, but they are not where most people start. Most non-religious and nominally religious people are focused on simply coping with life and its challenges. Exegesis of the Lectionary text of the day – no thank you. Insights that might help me make sense of the world and my place in it, my relationships, my beliefs, and the big questions of life – yes, please.

At Resurrection, fishing expeditions are part of the outwardly focused rhythm of life. In the midst of tending the brokenness within our congregation and community, deepening the faith and discipleship of our members, inspiring sacrifice for the sake of ministry and mission in the world, they remind us that Jesus’ first invitation to his disciples was: “Come, follow me,” he said, “and I’ll show you how to fish for people.” [Matthew 4:19 CEB] His invitation to you is the same.

Jonathan Bell is our ShareChurch Leadership Resources Specialist. He is passionate about helping people and churches live out their faith in the world and helps strengthen other churches by equipping their leaders with ideas, tools, resources and training. He loves being married to his wife Angie and doing just about anything with their six kids. He particularly enjoys hiking mountains, catching fish, baking, holding babies, serving others, and growing things.