Why Inviting People to Church Won't Work...

by - 9:13 PM

Gone are the days when simply “inviting people to church” was enough to get the salvation ball rolling, so to speak. Today's average Joe (or Jane) doesn't care much for getting up early on a day off work, dressing up (to some measure), and taking his/her family to a church service. And with the bad rap that health/wealth preacher-thieves, priestly pedophiles, and the terminally unfaithful have given the church…most viewers of the nightly news think that houses of worship are disdainful. Heck - due to technological advances, even many so-called Christians prefer "streaming" services online to an in-the-flesh gathering of believers these days. So, how can we expect to non-believers to get all hopped-up about attending church?

One of my youth asked me about this matter last night, and I found that the answer was already lodged in his question. His query involved whether or not it was wrong for us to think that we could just invite someone to church and expect the pastor to “do all the work,” spiritually, in that person’s life. Of course, his presupposition was correct: yes, it is wrong for us to think this. In fact, that idea is unrealistic at best...more akin to preposterous, absurd, and even laughable! 

I remember being a teenager in a mid-sized Southern Baptist Church in Georgia - growing up with “high-attendance Sunday” being the gold standard for church outreach events. But even back then, it didn’t work well. Sure, we’d canvas the neighborhood and mail out enough fliers to wallpaper the Taj Mahal. And of course, we'd prepare a country-fried potluck dinner to rival the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. Amidst all our frenzy, though, we might've increased attendance by about 25% for the day - but then, where'd all those people disappear to the next Sunday?

For some, it was back to their relaxing, poolside Sunday Funday. For others, it was back to their own congregations. [Because, contrary to popular belief, many people simply invited proselytized friends from other churches to boost their numbers and win the Sunday School's coveted "outreach" award pizza party. Ugh.] For more still, it was back to their way of thinking that church was definitely not for them.

At any rate…today's churches are full of pew-sitters who (to some measure) still believe that all we have to do is "invite people to church" in order to fulfill the Great Commission. We are sorely mistaken.

The command to "go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you" in Matthew 28:19-20 mentions nothing about inviting people to sit in a pew on Sundays. However, it does mention the following...

1) Make disciples: the imperative Greek verb that commands us to guide others to conform to the image of Christ, just as we are already doing. 
2) Going: the Greek participle implying a habitually traveling state of pursuing others - wherever they may be  (think: the ends of the earth) - in order to make disciples of them.
3) Baptizing: the Greek participle speaking of the completion of the conversion of others (i.e. they have come to faith in Christ, they have declared that faith to others by means of baptism, and they have joined a local body with which they can grow). 
4) Teaching: the Greek participle meaning to train someone else by word, deed, correction, encouragement, etc. to follow Christ.
So the command for us to "make disciples" by going, baptizing, and teaching speaks to a far greater investment than a mere invite. And to further address my young friend's question about "letting the pastor do all the work"…

No pastor can deeply connect with every visitor to a church service. And true, person-to-person connection is generally what most people need to understand the Gospel fully and commit to a life in Christ. Why is this? Well the Gospel is, by nature, a shared commodity. God has chosen that the Gospel call go out to the nations by those of us who already know Jesus and can tell others about how they can know Him as well.

In fact, perhaps the most effective, missional thing that one can do is to befriend sinners. And I'm not talking about being a courteous bystander to their lives but rather a loving and persistent investor in them. The old, somewhat trite adage is true: "People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care." If we genuinely care for lost people just the way they are, they will most likely reciprocate - in turn, caring for us just the way we are. This will lead them to ask questions about our faith and actually listen when we answer. This will also lead us to communicate the Gospel in a way that speaks to where they are - because we will know the intricacies that make up their lives. We will more intimately know their passions, griefs, and deepest needs that only Christ can fill. And if we are living Christlike lifestyles in their full view, they will be much more willing to hear about this great salvation that we are proclaiming.

So yes, it is wrong for us to think that we can simply invite people to church and expect the pastor to complete the work unto salvation in their lives. "Inviting people to church" won't work. It won't work to widely propagate salvation, and it won't work to fulfill our command to make disciples. In light of this fact, let us strive to befriend those sinners for whom Christ died so that we may respond to the Great Commission with gusto. And let our authentic, genuine style of evangelism be one that the Holy Spirit can swiftly work through in order that the lost may be found in Him.

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  1. You and I are of kindred spirits. Great post. I wish more people thought this way.

  2. May I suggest a book? I am currently reading Why Nobody Wants to Go to Church Anymore (and how 4 acts of love will make your church irresistible) by Thom & Joani Schultz. The 4 Acts are: Radical Hospitality, Fearless Conversation, Genuine Humility and Divine Anticipation. Enjoy!

  3. Shelly, thanks for the feedback. And "Anonymous," thanks for the suggestion. I have actually read their book called "Why Nobody Learns Much of Anything at Church (And How to Fix It)" before…they have much insight.


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