Jesus Is for Everyone
By Melissa Sandel, director of ministries, West Side Christian Church, Springfield, Illinois
In early 2014, West Side’s leaders began to sense our community needed a refreshing message from the church—that Jesus is, in fact, for EVERYONE—without qualifiers. We launched a six-week emphasis entitled “EVERYONE,” based on Jesus’ words in John 11:25, 26, with renewed conviction that Jesus offers new life and hope to everyone who chooses to follow him.
The first step was a Sunday morning message describing what it would mean to extend the hope of Jesus to everyone in our community.
Next, we equipped our entire church with cards with the word EVERYONE printed on them. Westsiders were asked to snap photos with various people and at a variety of locations throughout our city while holding the EVERYONE card. Photos were then posted to social media using a hashtag. The idea was simple—get the word out that Jesus and our church are for EVERYONE. The response was overwhelming. Within a week, our city was buzzing about the “EVERYONE movement.”
Hundreds of EVERYONE photos were taken and posted in the weeks leading up to Easter. Unchurched people began to ask, “What’s this EVERYONE thing I’m seeing everywhere?” which opened the door for inspiring spiritual conversations and invitations to our Easter services.
In a world that often views Christians as judgmental and exclusive, the EVERYONE movement represented the church at its best—loving and inviting our entire community to investigate the revolutionary message of Jesus.
Westsiders became quite clever during the effort. One Westsider, after being pulled over for speeding, convinced the ticket-issuing police officer to hold up an EVERYONE card for a photo. Another sent an electronic version to her military friend in Egypt, who posted an EVERYONE photo with his brigade. A child held up an EVERYONE card with the emergency room medical staff that removed a button he stuck up his nose.
Some EVERYONE stories were fun, while others were deeply moving. A manager at a local pizza place was invited to Easter at West Side using an EVERYONE card. She replied, “Do you really mean EVERYONE? Because I’m a lesbian.”
Yep. We mean Jesus is for EVERYONE. This seemed quite surprising to a woman who had largely felt unwanted and unwelcomed by Christians.
Springfield, Illinois, is divided both socioeconomically and by race. The EVERYONE movement gave members who live on the east side a great onramp for inviting their friends. Despite our church name, West Side is for EVERYONE, in every part of town.
In addition to the cards, we scattered a few EVERYONE billboards around town (one posted above a tattoo parlor) and sold inexpensive EVERYONE T-shirts. EVERYONE became the talk of Springfield.
In the end, we had a record-setting Easter attendance. Our teaching and creative elements that day demonstrated the hope, forgiveness, and transformation made possible for everyone because of the resurrection of Christ.
What we thought would be a one-day emphasis quickly became embedded in our church’s DNA. The spirit of EVERYONE permeated our culture and made us a more welcoming, diverse church.
This season impacted our congregation and community so deeply that we retooled our mission statement: “West Side Christian Church exists to connect EVERYONE to Jesus and his mission.”