Personal Invitations to Church are not Enough

Invited to ChurchAs much as I believe in giving personal invitations to church, I can’t say that I personally know that many people who sit at home just hoping someone would invite them to church.

Statistics show that some people will respond to an invitation to church,  and that such invitations are often part of the conversion process.

But in our busy culture, it might take months of repeated invitations before a person accepts and attends.

Why is that?

They Value Something Else

An unchurched person usually has something more important to do than attend your church.

Frankly, I’m sometimes so bored with how church is done that I’d rather do something else as well.

This question boils down to the value of time.  Does attending your church provide value in exchange for the time?

Jesus saw this happening.

When one of those at the table with him heard this, he said to Jesus, “Blessed is the one who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.”

 Jesus replied: “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests.  At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’

“But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, ‘I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.’

 “Another said, ‘I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.’

 “Still another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’

Luke 14:15-20 (NIV)

They all had more important things to do.  Good things.  Valuable things.  Things they didn’t want to trade the time for.

You value Sunday morning at church, your friend doesn’t

You find your Sunday morning gathering important.  You see your friends.  You hear a sermon that is likely relavent to your life.  You give of your tithes and offerings to support the mission of the church.

You are emotionally engaged with your congregation.  You are there when your friends need you, and you likewise will receive their care when you need them.

Church is “home” for you. 

It’s a family home where you have grown to love, value, and treasure the relationships.

If you are actively serving in a volunteer role, you find a tremendous sense of value that helps you set aside other good things to serve.

if you are volunteering in your community on some of the church mission projects, you find value.

Your friend is not there.

Start creating value through service

I picked this idea up from Francis Chan’s book, Crazy Love.

Chan reminds us in Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God that following Christ calls us to give ourselves away in service for the Kingdom of God.  As we do, we can’t help but share the wonder of who God is, the motives of our service, and find the joy of inviting people to join us in transforming the world as followers of Christ.

In the book, Chan calls the church to live out Isaiah 58:10

if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry, satisfy the needs of the oppressed

He argues that community service and volunteer opportunities become invitable events.

You invite your friends to serve along side of you in your church’s mission.  You invite your friends to give themselves away as well.

In the process, they will meet other believers from your church and have a chance to learn more about your church and it’s mission.

Start creating value through relevant sermon series

In our own church, we choose short sermon series that address issues of everyday life.

Short sermon series that are four to six weeks in length provide value to visitors and church members for their daily life.

One series will often lead to another.

Here is how one church did this in an effective way in their community.

Start creating value through relationships

Your church will not grow if your visitors are not returning and connecting with people in your congregation.

My family once  attended a local fellowship for nearly 6 months.   It was a fellowship with about 100 people at the service we attended.

Not one person made an effort to talk with us.  This church had all the right hospitality systems:

  • Visitor Table
  • Contact Cards
  • Ushers
  • Greeters

They were doing all the right hospitality ministry, but there was not a single person who said hello to us.  Even the pastor remained a stranger to us during this time.

We eventually grew bored and left.

There was no value in going.  

We had better things to do.

Ask yourself

Your church will not grow if you visitors don’t begin to feel that investing their time with your church would make a meaningful difference to them.

What would an unsaved, unchurched person value about the spiritual life of your church community that would be more important than what they already do on a sunday morning?

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Summary: Should we invite non believers to church?

Excluding Church VisitorsAs I finished out my chapter through chapter re-read of the book of Acts, I see believers and non-believers in various settings:

  • hearing the word of God proclaimed,
  • gifts of the Spirit are manifested,
  • elders are chosen,
  • people getting saved, etc.

The biblical DESCRIPTION of what happened in the NT church involved these elements.  It gets mighty confusing to look at the book of Acts and to say

  • “that’s not a church meeting” but “that assembly is a church meeting.”
  • That’s not church, that is church,
  • Paul’s preaching in the synagogue is outreach, but teaching in a different place is a church gathering.

What is obvious is that people were being regularly and daily saved.  This no basis to say that these conversions were occurring within or outside of the gatherings.

Acts merely describes what was happening.

It does not define a how the church will function following this particular era.

The church as a gathering PLACE is development.  The earliest glimpses in Acts shows groups of people meeting in synagogues, public squares, and in houses.  Today’s PLACES of gathering is very different than the gatherings in the book of Acts.  Most of us meet in a dedicated space or building set apart for church meetings.

The church as a gathered PEOPLE is still a theological concept in development that is later spelled out in Paul’s letters.

The church gathered for the PURPOSE of a particular expression of worship did not look like the weekly gathering of God’s people for worship as we know it in nearly any form today.

To ask the book of Acts for evidence about inviting non-believers to a church is ultimately a practice that will fail.

As the remaining passages deal with the missionary expansion of the early Christians there were no “churches” in these towns for the gathering of the saints  They were being created as the apostles went forth, so looking at these passages for evidence of church practices may be pointless.

Objections I have encountered:

As I’ve discussed this with people, I’ve encountered a few uses of Scripture and examples that attempt to prove the point that we should not invite unbelievers to church.

I want to touch a few of those points below.

1. Don’t be unequally yoked.

2 Corinthians 6:14 reads:

Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?

I’m not convinced that applies to inviting a unsaved person to church hear the gospel message.   Inviting a unsaved friend to church is not spiritually uniting with them.  It is not asking them into membership.  It is not offering them a leadership position.  Instead it is inviting them to come and hear the word of God proclaimed, where they can evaluate the message for themselves.

The underlying imagery from the OT is two different animals walking together.

I see this passage applying to marriage, business partnerships, church leadership and other places where two would walk together in close unity.  I’m not sure Paul talks specifically about church gatherings, but a lifestyle.

In terms of church life, I’d see it applying to membership, church leadership positions, pastors etc.

They are the leaders of the church.  Members who have joined a church should of course profess faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.  We do not have atheists as church members, unsaved as elders, etc.

I don’t think this “yoking” or spiritual mixing occurs when we invite a non-believer to hear the word of God proclaimed in our worship services.  If I invite a non-believer into a leadership position – to help me lead the church in some way – THEN that line is crossed.

2.  Unsaved Visitors were Rare.

1 Corinthians 14:22-25

Tongues, then, are a sign, not for believers but for unbelievers; prophecy, however, is not for unbelievers but for believers. So if the whole church comes together and everyone speaks in tongues, and inquirers or unbelievers come in, will they not say that you are out of your mind?  But if an unbeliever or an inquirer comes in while everyone is prophesying, they are convicted of sin and are brought under judgment by all, as the secrets of their hearts are laid bare. So they will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, “God is really among you!”

Paul challenges the Corinthian church to be sensitive to visitors.  At this point in the development of the church meetings as a gathering of people, unbelievers are in their midst.

This passage ASSUMES their presence, but doesn’t indicate the manner in which the non-believer arrived.  The verb is simply “COMES IN” but gives no indication of the manner: by invitation, by curiosity, by advertising, nothing.

I’ve seen this passage used to share that the presence of such visitor was RARE.  That assumes facts not in evidence.  The one clear mention of a non believer being present doesn’t mean it was rare.  It is an unprovable assertion.  Paul’s point is addressing the misuse of tongues, not church invitations.   Likewise, I cannot prove from the texts that it was a COMMON practice.  I’d have to assume facts not in evidence.

One cannot say the practice was RARE or COMMON without assuming facts.  What we can say is that Paul does not prohibit the presence of non-believers in the midst of the assembly, nor does Paul specifically command that we give invitations.

The point of this passage is that the Corinthian church should be sensitive to the non-believing visitors in their midst.  I believe this should be part of every church’s DNA, whether you speak in tongues or not.  You want your unsaved visitors to declare that God is in your midst.

3.  Jesus as an example.

The assertion that I’ve seen is that Jesus did not have a non-believer in his group of 12, then we shouldn’t have them as well in our churches.

However, the particular question we are discussing – can we invite the unsaved to our church services – does not seem to be answered by Jesus as an example.  This is a straw man, I think, for this discussion.

There was no church to invite people to.   He lived in a different time than an organized church.

Of course he didn’t yoke himself with a non-believing sinner who advocated for things not of the Lord.  But he did hangout with people who needed him.  He clearly hung out with people, welcomed people who sought him out etc.

I don’t see him rejecting people who don’t yet believe based on a meeting place or specific type of gathering.

Coaching Corner

Let me ask you this:

For what reasons SHOULD we invite our non-Christian friends to church?  Answer in the comment field. . .

 

Invite Non Believers to Church?–Part 5

You are invited to ChurchShould we invite non-believers to our church services?  The question came up in a discussion group I am a part of, so I’ve chosen to examine the early church patterns from the book of Acts.

As I have looked at the gatherings of the disciples so far, what is clear so far there is no pattern of inclusion or exclusion, or if it is even possible to make a definitive conclusion.

Now that I’m at Part 5 and into the missionary expansion of the church, Luke is even less helpful in answering the question that I want a clear answer to.  My question was not Luke’s question. After these passages, I will stop this particular review from the book of Acts, even though I’m 10 chapters from the end.

I will share some of my forming conclusions in tomorrow’s post.

Acts 15:1-4, 22

Certain people came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the believers: “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.”  This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them. So Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question.  The church sent them on their way, and as they traveled through Phoenicia and Samaria, they told how the Gentiles had been converted. This news made all the believers very glad.  When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and elders, to whom they reported everything God had done through them. . . .

Then the apostles and elders, with the whole church, decided to choose some of their own men and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They chose Judas (called Barsabbas) and Silas, men who were leaders among the believers

Luke speaks of the believers as a group.  The teaching could have happened in their gatherings of believers.  Luke’s point in Chapter 15 is to discuss how the early church dealt with the practice of circumcision.  He doesn’t speak to the demographic make up of the group.  We have no way of knowing if this was believers only group, or included the presence of seekers, God-fearers or the spiritually curious.

The story that follows in this passage refers to the gathering of the church leadership.  “The apostles and elders met together to consider this question” (v.6).

At the end, the church (as a description of the believers as a group) affirms the decisions of the elders.

Acts 15:30-35

So the men were sent off and went down to Antioch, where they gathered the church together and delivered the letter.  The people read it and were glad for its encouraging message.  Judas and Silas, who themselves were prophets, said much to encourage and strengthen the believers.  After spending some time there, they were sent off by the believers with the blessing of peace to return to those who had sent them.  But Paul and Barnabas remained in Antioch, where they and many others taught and preached the word of the Lord.

Luke uses the word church to describe the body of believers.  The believers are encouraged as they hear the letter, and they send off people.

Acts 15:41

He went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.

Church refers to the gathered people, not to a particular meeting for the particular purpose of worship that we are looking for examples of.

Acts 16:4-5

As they traveled from town to town, they delivered the decisions reached by the apostles and elders in Jerusalem for the people to obey.  So the churches were strengthened in the faith and grew daily in numbers.

Church refers to the gathered people, not to a particular meeting place.  They are growing in locations, as well as new people coming to faith.

Acts 17:1-4

When Paul and his companions had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a Jewish synagogue.  As was his custom, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures,  explaining and proving that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead. “This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Messiah,” he said.  Some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a large number of God-fearing Greeks and quite a few prominent women.

Paul preaches in the synagogue over a period of three weeks and people come to faith.

The location is not the gathering of believers called church, but reflects the evangelistic activity of the church in going where people are already gathering.

Acts 17:10-12

As soon as it was night, the believers sent Paul and Silas away to Berea. On arriving there, they went to the Jewish synagogue.  Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.  As a result, many of them believed, as did also a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek men.

Once again, the gatherings are in the synagogue.  The people receive the message, examine the scriptures and over time believed.  They were unbelievers to start with, and became believers after regular encounters with the word and examining the message for themselves.

Acts 17:16-32

So he reasoned in the synagogue with both Jews and God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there. . . . Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said . . .

Paul is in Athens, and since there is no church, he is out in the marketplace to gain new believers.

The end of the review of Acts:

Even though there are 11 chapters left beyond this point, (Acts 18-28), I don’t see a purpose in further examination of the missionary expansions of the gospel in the same level of detail at every gathering or mention of the word church.

Paul re-visits churches, sets up leadership, writes letters that deal with various issues in various churches, and aids in the theological reflection of the nature of the church.  By this point in the story, the organization of the church, the expansion of the church, various practices of the church are not described in Acts to the detail that will help answer the question.

As I’ve read and reread,

  • I don’t see a prohibition to inviting non-believers to a gathered assembly.
  • I don’t see a command that requires inviting non-believers to a gathered assembly.
  • I don’t see a pattern of either / or in the book of Acts that can tell me.

It is clear to me that the book of Acts cannot answer the question that I ask of it: Can we invite non-believers to our weekly church gatherings as we practice them now?

In the next installment, I’ll share my conclusions and a few points from Paul’s letters.

See earlier discussions:

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Are Unbelievers Present at Church – Part 4

Invited to ChurchShould we invite non-believers to our church services?

So far through the three parts of rereading the book of Acts (part 1 covers Acts 1-5, part 2 covers Acts 6-9, part 3 covers Acts 10-11), I don’t see a clear answer to the question.

As I have looked at the gatherings of the disciples so far, what is clear so far there is no pattern of inclusion or exclusion, or if it is even possible to make a conclusion.

Particularly starting in this next section, it starts to get confusing to say “that’s a church meeting” and “that is not a church meeting.”

They are gatherings where the word of God is proclaimed, gifts of the Spirit are manifested, and elders are set apart with fasting and prayer.  The only hints of locations are a few references to the synagogue.

In today’s section, I’ll continue in Acts as I watch the church develop in various cities as the gospel goes forth.

Acts 12:1-5, 12

It was about this time that King Herod arrested some who belonged to the church, intending to persecute them . . . . So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him. . . . . he went to the house of Mary the mother of John, also called Mark,where many people had gathered and were praying.

Luke uses the word church to identify the disciples, not to speak of a specific gathering for worship.  The use in verse 5 may refer to a specific meeting in the house of Mary that is described in verse 12.

It is likely that this gathering for a prayer meeting was made up only of known disciples, but that is a a likely inference rather than a clear statement.

It doesn’t address the question about inviting the unsaved to our church meetings to hear the proclamation of the word of God.

Acts 13:1-3

Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul.  While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.”  So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.

Luke’s use of the word church refers to disciples in Antioch.  Was it the one church meeting (specific event), or a general description of the church as disciples with various meetings in various parts of the city?  Verse 2 moves us to a specific meeting for the setting apart of Barnabas and Paul.

This passage shows only believers (prophets and teachers) by name.

But this verse doesn’t address the question – are unbelievers present or excluded?  It’s not Luke’s point.

Acts 13:42-44, 48-49

As Paul and Barnabas were leaving the synagogue, the people invited them to speak further about these things on the next Sabbath.   When the congregation was dismissed, many of the Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who talked with them and urged them to continue in the grace of God.   On the next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. . . .  When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed. . . The word of the Lord spread through the whole region.

Paul had been teaching in the synagogue in Psidian Antioch.  He preached a simple message and people believed.  He was invited to return and it is said almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord.

I think it is very likely that unbelievers and believers were in this mix.  They had come to hear the word of God.  Some believed after hearing.

What is clear is that this is a gathering of people.  If one holds that unbelievers are not to be invited to church, then this meeting must not be church.

Acts 14:1-7

No specific gathering is mentioned, other than Paul teaching in the synagogue.  A great number of Jews and Greeks believed.  Verse 3 adds:

So Paul and Barnabas spent considerable time there, speaking boldly for the Lord, who confirmed the message of his grace by enabling them to perform signs and wonders.

There is no mention of a place where this occurs other than the synagogue.

I would imagine that the believers and non-believers continued to mix at gatherings to hear the word of God taught during that considerable time there.  Luke doesn’t record any kind of division or separation into “believer only group” and mixed group.

Acts 14:21-28

They preached the gospel in that city and won a large number of disciples. Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,” they said.   Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust.  After going through Pisidia, they came into Pamphylia, and when they had preached the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia.  From Attalia they sailed back to Antioch, where they had been committed to the grace of God for the work they had now completed.  On arriving there, they gathered the church together and reported all that God had done through them and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. And they stayed there a long time with the disciples.

Luke gives generalized statements about people coming to faith in various cities, the appointment of elders, prayer and fasting.

There are no details here to suggest a “believers only” worship gathering, except maybe in the final sentence.

“they gathered the church together and reported all that God had done through them and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles.”

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Are Unbelievers Present in the Assemblies in Acts? Part 3

church inviteI invite my unsaved friends to church.

I invite them to

  • hear the proclamation of the word of God,
  • to learn about a Christian community,
  • and to explore for themselves who Jesus is.

While they cannot become members until they place their faith in Christ and can confess that they believe Jesus Christ is Savior and Lord, they are invited to attend our weekly gatherings, get involved in home based small groups, and even volunteer in the community outreach programs to serve along side with us.

In essence, we give non-believers the space and time to explore who we are as Christians, get to know us as the body of Christ, and examine for themselves the claims that following Jesus would place upon their life.

Do we see this pattern in the book of Acts?

  • Is it permissible?
  • Is it prohibited?
  • Is it even possible to draw a conclusion one way or another?

In this series (part 1 covers Acts 1-5, part 2 covers Acts 6-9) I’m reading through Acts to see if there is a pattern of inclusion or exclusion, or if it is even possible to make a conclusion.

Acts 9:31

Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace and was strengthened. Living in the fear of the Lord and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers

Luke uses the word “church” not as a particular meeting of people.  I see this use as an identifier of a group, not as a gathering of believers for a meeting to hear the word, worship, or pray.

Acts 10:23-24

The next day Peter started out with them, and some of the believers from Joppa went along.  The following day he arrived in Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends.

This gathering is not called a church meeting. It is a mixed gathering of believers and non-believers.  Peter and six disciples (11:12) met with Cornelius who had gathered many of his family together to listen to Peter share about the good news of Jesus.  Peter preached, the Holy Spirit fell on them, they received baptism.

Acts 11:1-18

Peter meets the the disciples in Jerusalem.  He had been criticized for mixing with uncircumcised people.  Peter shared the story of what happened and persuaded them that the Holy Spirit had come upon the Gentiles.

This gathering of believers is to deal with the issue of the expansion of the gospel.  It reflects the tension that is growing over the issue of circumcision.  It begins to reveal how the disciples dealt with old barriers that the gospel was crossing.

It is a gathering of leaders in the church who are debating and discerning what God is doing, much like a church leadership board would meet today to discern what God is doing in the local church.  This gathering in this passage doesn’t address the question I’m asking.

Acts 11:26

So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.

Luke uses the term church as an identifier for the believers or disciples.  For the whole year, they met with the church in Anticoh.  Was it one gathering of all the disciples in one place, or where there multiple meeting points throughout the city where individual church gatherings were happening?  There is no hint here.  Luke simply gives a summary statement of what happened that year.

This verse doesn’t answer the question I’m asking.   It simply reveals the pattern of gathering regularly to receive teaching from Barnabas and Paul.

Acts 11:27-30

Luke gives us a specific event that provokes the gathering of offerings.  A prophet named Agabus prophesies a famine.   The disciples decided to provide help for the brothers living in Judea, each according to his own ability. (v. 29)

One can assume that the disciples were meeting together as was their custom when Agabus shared that prophesy.

This passage shows the believers meeting together, but doesn’t address the question of the presence of invited non-believers.  That’s not the point or pertinent detail for Luke’s story telling.  Luke’s desire is to show how the Antioch Christians obeyed the prompting of the Holy Spirit to provide for the believers in Jerusalem.

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