I posted this question to the EvangelismCoach.org Facebook page.
“Should we invite unsaved friends to church?” Give a Yes or No, and then give a reason.
The answers were pretty divided between Yes and No, with some strong opinions:
- Yes, the church is on an evangelistic mission.
- No, the church is for believers only to train believers to go into the world, get them saved, and then bring them in.
It’s not my point here to drift into a full theology of the nature of the church, but to focus on the vocabulary of the question: what do I mean when I use the word church in this question?
I mean the gathered assembly, whether it meets in a high school gym, music hall, or a beautiful church building with stain glass windows and movable chairs.
I’m in the Yes camp.
I invite my unsaved friends.
I’ve been inviting my unsaved friends to church for so long that it is part of my teaching. I teach on
- how to invite people to church,
- how to pray for more church invitations
- How to host an Invite a Friend or Pack A Pew Campaign, sometimes called Operation Andrew.
Many of our church hospitality practices are based on the assumption that unsaved persons will be in our church, no matter how that visitor got there. I’ve never questioned it.
I know many people who came to Christ because a friend invited them to church. Here is one story. After a few weeks of hearing the preaching of the word, my friend surrendered his life to Christ. It is possible that without that invitation, he may have remained lost. It is possible that God could have brought him salvation by some other method. My friend was invited to church and came to faith in Christ.
If the church is responsible for evangelism, then it seems that some of its meetings will be intentionally evangelistic.
It also seems to me that the church would teach and train church members for evangelism where they live.
Is there evidence in the New Testament?
There is not any direct command to invite or direct prohibition against an invitation.
We don’t see the command to invite the unsaved, nor do we see a prohibition against inviting the nonbeliever.
We do not see the apostles or other leaders specifically inviting people to the assembly.
Is it possible that the early Christians invited people to the local assembly? Sure.
Is it plausible that they invited people? Sure.
There are plenty of gatherings in the New Testament that suggest unsaved people are in their midst. People came to faith in those gatherings, so they must have arrived as an non-believer.
No matter where we stand on inviting the unsaved, we are having to make the argument from plausible assumptions.
The Corinthian Church
We see Paul’s concern for the unbeliever in the midst of the assembly.
First Corinthians 14:23 Paul wants the assembly of the church to be sensitive to the unbeliever in their midst:
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!” – 1 Corinthians 14:22-25
Paul assumes that there exists a possibility of unbelievers in the midst of the assembly.
There is no indication of how that unbeliever got there, nor is that the point of text.
That unbeliever could have
- wandered in,
- been invited by a person,
- heard about the church from friends and co-workers, or
- some other form of curiosity brought them to that church.
In this passage, Paul doesn’t preach against inviting unbelievers to church. He acknowledges the reality of their presence, no matter by what means or reason they come.
The disciples in Tyrannus
Paul had been in synagogues preaching the gospel for about three months (v.8), when it became too disruptive to continue there. So Paul gathers the disciples in a different location for the next 2 years (v.10)
But some of them became obstinate; they refused to believe and publicly maligned the Way. So Paul left them.
He took the disciples with him and had discussions daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus.
This went on for two years, so that all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord. – Acts 19:9-10
The end result was people hearing the Word of God. The circle of the gospel’s expansion started from taking “disciples with him” to “all the Jews and Greeks who lived in Asia.”
This suggests some form of evangelistic activity.
- It is plausible and possible that some of that expansion had personal invitations given to non-believers to come and hear Paul.
- It is possible that non-believers heard the gospel from Paul, believed, and then carried that gospel forward to new places.
- It is possible that non-believers gathered in Paul’s teaching for several weeks until they became convinced of the truth of the Gospel.
This form of evangelism cannot be ruled out.
The text doesn’t give an indication of exclusion or inclusion of non-believers listening to Paul in the lecture hall.
Start the discussion:
Answer this question in the comments below.
For what reasons should we invite the unsaved to our church?
Keep it civil.