Where Should Non-Believers Hear the Gospel?


Part 3 of 4

Last week, we looked at the first 4 of 7 common reasons why most Christians answer the question “Do Non-Believers Belong in Worship Services? with an emphatic “YES!”   Today, we’ll summarize and respond to the remaining 3 arguments behind their belief that church members should invite their non-Christian friends to church.  The Bible states clearly in 1 Corinthians 14:22-25 that non-believers who show up at church “unannounced” should be warmly welcomed, but that their presence should not impede pastors from preaching “the deep truths of God”.  However, what was in question in our last post “Is Church Really a ‘Hospital for Sinners’?“and again here is the biblical foundation for proactively inviting and advertising to entice non-believers to join worship services…

5.  “What about all those who won’t hear the Gospel if we stop inviting non-believers to church?”

When you read that question out loud, it does make no longer inviting non-believers to church sound heartless and “unChristian”.  At first glance, the question conjures the image of non-believers left out in the cold to fend for themselves.

However, what that argument does not take into account is how many more would likely come to faith if churchgoers would do more than simply invite them to come into a building.  In other words, when we contended last week that church is not a “hospital for sinners”, we were making the point that “church” by definition is not a building but an assembly of the “called out ones” who are “devoted to the Lord”.  Therefore, church is not an Emergency Room where those critically ill and hopelessly lost are supposed to arrive by ambulance for urgent care on Sunday mornings.

ER doctors and nurses only practice medicine inside the confines of a hospital.  However those who do not yet know that they have Stage 4 spiritual cancer are highly unlikely to rush to the pastoral “oncologist” at the “hospital for sinners” for sanctifying chemo and radiation treatments.  Instead, individual Christians were intended to be the “church” personified, nurse practitioners making house calls in their workplaces and neighborhoods delivering the great news that Jesus can bring instantaneous and complete healing.

Imagine the Kingdom impact of reverting to the biblical definition of “church”, equipping and mobilizing the millions of “hands and feet” who sit idly in the pews of America’s churches, hoping their non-believing coworkers and friends will one day accept their invitation to a worship service.  The simple, convicting truth that dispels the myth behind the argument raised in this section is that fewer non-believers would be on the “outside looking in” if churchgoers would adopt their intended roles, commissioned by Jesus Himself, as evangelists and disciple-makers.  Seekers would find what they were looking for without ever having to step foot into a church building.

6.  “Isn’t it a great thing to have lots of non-believers checking out our church?”

At the risk of sounding like a politician, the answer to that question is “it depends…”

…on why they’re checking out your church

  • Is church attendance a prerequisite for social acceptance (as it is in many small towns)?

  • Are they responding to a mailer or invitation promising a fun environment for kids and practical messages, with no expectations?

  • Or was their curiosity sparked by members who continually demonstrate compassion despite hardship, love despite animosity, and forgiveness despite injustice?

…on what they find when they get there

  • A comfortable, warm environment free of challenges or commitments beyond returning next Sunday

  • Answers to their tough questions, confronted with the truth about sin and their need for forgiveness

  • Opportunities to grow through discipleship and live out their faith through missions

…on how the church has changed to accommodate them

  • Compromising and conforming so as not to offend yet consequently defiling what is meant to be holy

  • Reluctant to hold the congregation to the Great Commission standard, failing to equip and empower those called to be the “church” between Sundays

  • Resorting to occasional compassion events, checking the box rather than following Jesus’ model of serving first and then telling people who He is

7.  “Just think of the opportunity that having non-believers here gives our church family to rally around them and put our faith into action.”

That statement carries with it an underlying, flawed premise.  Today’s prevailing church growth models have not only redefined the word “church”, but also the Church’s intended, biblical “customer”.  Members are the embodiment of “church” and are therefore “insiders”, more like employees of a company than its customers.  And like employees, church members should be trained and deployed to pursue “customers” – the lost in the community where that church is planted.

Yet the fact that the investment by the average church in caring for its community has dropped from 40%-50% (when churches were the food bank and homeless shelter for the better part of 1900 years) to around 2% today shows that churches no longer see “outsiders” as “customers”.  Instead, churches devote the vast majority of their time, energy and dollars to attracting and retaining (congregants) rather than equipping and releasing (disciples).  Likewise, words like “outreach” (now redefined as “church marketing”) and “ministry” (now code for “church chores”) have taken on new meanings as well, with emphasis redirected toward institution-building versus disciple-sending.

As a reader recently commented, “God will judge the church NOT by how many people come off the streets and into the pews, but by how many people get out of the pews on onto the streets.”  It’s a sign of our times that inviting people to church has become the primary way that Christians share the gospel, because it’s the primary evangelistic function that churchgoers are asked and prepared by pastors to perform.  Ironically, the fact that the biblical “customers” of churches today feel ignored by the Church makes it all the less likely that those non-believers will accept those invitations to church.

Much like when a company leaves a customer on hold for what seems like an eternity waiting to speak with a human being, Christians who do not live Prayer-Care-Share lifestyles provide poor “customer” service.  Churchgoers are the only personal interface most non-believers will have with “church” during their lifetimes, so if those who are essentially “employees” continually miss opportunities to exceed customer expectations through caring and to “sell” through sharing, they do a disservice to both those non-believers and the body of Christ.

Pastors unwilling to risk challenging their members to endure all the time and effort the Great Commission truly entails for fear of losing them to a church down the road are treating those “insiders” like “customers” – and likewise doing a disservice to the Kingdom.  Understandably, it’s daunting to be one of the few pastors to step out onto that limb when it will make other churches more attractive by comparison.  However, the upside of choosing obedience in spite of the risks surely makes that “gamble” worthwhile.

It’s Your Turn…

If non-believers are not the “church” but should be the target “customer” of the church, then isn’t inviting them to church much like a company inviting its customers to staff meetings and employee training sessions?  Instead, shouldn’t those company functions be reserved for employees (i.e. church members) who in turn leverage that training to pursue “customers” out in the field?

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