Good reasons not to invite friends to church
In February, our church brought in a consultant named Paul Borden to take a peak at how we were doing as a church. Borden recommended a number things to the leadership that needed to be addressed. Among the shortlist of the major issues were the following (this is my paraphrase not exactly what was said – I’ve never seen the real report):
- We are ineffective at bringing people into the Kingdom of God (our church has grown but most of the growth is from people coming from a different church)
- We don’t have an effective method of discipleship at our church
- We don’t have an effective governance structure that closely supports and enables the mission to be accomplished.
In response to these three things, there has been a flurry of activity that has been added to an already packed church calendar. Some of this activity has been: topics of sermons, events for the community, committees that have been formed, etc. I doubt most of what we are trying will have a much of an effect.
I love the church that I attend, and there are some towering strengths that it has. But on these things we miss the mark and are likely to continue to do so. Unfortunately, the first two represent the mission of God on this earth entirely.
Since the consultant has been there we have heard a number of sermons. Most of which are about the fact that we do a lousy job of reaching out to people. Many of the sermons have been trying to cajole us as a congregation to bring people in the door.
Here are a few thoughts about why we are ineffective and then a brief list of questions worth asking.
- We are ineffective at reaching out to people because we have a view of reaching out that is us against them. Being a father of four and involved in the community at various levels, I get to know a lot of people. The people in our community are by in large good people that care about the community, their children, and even the world around them. Many of them volunteer many hours towards good causes, rec programs, schools, and non-profits. Most of them if asked the question “Are you a Christian?” would answer yes. So the problem is that the gospel we routinely preach is one where there are insiders and there are outsiders and our job is to bring the outsiders in and convince them of what we know. Unfortunately, this gospel is neither compelling nor convicting and it isn’t the gospel that Jesus preached.
- We are ineffective at influencing our community because our churches are not filled with people who are progressively becoming more like Christ. Instead our churches are filled with generally two types: the “conservative Christians” that have a convincing doctrinal correctness or more “liberal Christians” who view their role as saving the world through social justice. I am not against doctrine or social justice, actually I am for both. But neither represents the gospel that Jesus preached, and both become self-righteous ways of proving that we have the right kind of religion. I know this personally: I have spent plenty of time approaching the world from both views and was ineffective as a result.
- We are ineffective because most of our messages are filled with either guilt or milquetoast. We regularly hear from the pulpit and other places how we aren’t doing enough, reading the bible enough, are watching too much tv, care too much about money, don’t pray enough, etc. The theme of most of these messages is to try harder. These things may be true, but they aren’t the message that Jesus came with. Jesus came offering a Kingdom of God that was so compelling that people left everything they had to be a part of it.
- We are ineffective because we haven’t grown in our faith to the point where we are living a soul-satisfying life that attracts those around us to want to be a part of our community. If I am honest with you, for the most part I don’t see much in what we do on Sunday mornings that would be appealing to those outside of the church. Unfortunately, the lives most of us live aren’t worth calling people into. This isn’t the way Jesus promised it and isn’t the way God intended it but it’s the truth for now. We need a personal calling to a deeper faith. Dallas Willard says it this way: “It is the responsibility of every Christian to carve out a soul satisfying life under loving rule of God so that sin will not look good.”
- We are ineffective because we have left out half of the great commission. Usually when you see the great commission quoted you will see this: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…” The problem is in the [dot, dot,dot]. The [dot, dot, dot] says this, “teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you and I am with you always to the end of the age.” The omission is that we are not recruiting people to be in our church, community, small group or other fellowship to be intellectual allies about the “gospel”. We are to be training people who will become increasingly able to reign with God in eternity. We are to be regularly and progressively learning more and more deeply the ways of Jesus so that they bleed out into everything that we do. John Ortberg summarizes this by saying our role is to bring Up There Down Here. We are to be Kingdom conduits that channel the character of God into this world.
Here are the questions that I am challenging myself with:
- Is your vision of the Kingdom of God compelling enough that other people would see it and want to get on board?
- Jesus promised the streams of living water would flow from inside of us. Does your life reflect streams of living water that are flowing from your soul?
- Do you look around and see the imprint of God’s image in the people around you and want for them to experience the life in Christ that you have obtained because it fills you with fullness of spirit?
- Does the message that our churches preach and teach create a compelling picture of what life with Christ is that our community might be attracted to the message and want to be a part of it?
Frank Laubach, a famous missionary and statesman once said it this way:
“The simple program of Christ for winning the whole world, is to make each person he touches magnetic enough with love to draw others.”
Honestly, until we have some answers to these questions our best bet might be to stop inviting people to our churches and start figuring out what true discipleship really looks like. When people can’t be kept away because they want what we have I think we will be onto something.
Keep moving forward,