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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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.”
  5. 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:

  1. Is your vision of the Kingdom of God compelling enough that other people would see it and want to get on board?
  2. 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?
  3. 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?
  4. 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,

Greg

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I am the CEO of Blue Ocean Ideas, a creative agency in Baltimore, Maryland. My job is to clarify the strategy and take care of my team. I am married to the beautiful Elise Rittler and we have four great kids. When I’m not at Blue Ocean Ideas or with my family I am riding a bike, running, playing ultimate frisbee, eating, or sleeping. There is a little more about me here.

10 Responses to “Good reasons not to invite friends to church”

By Greg Garvin - 9 May 2009

This is terrific stuff. Would that every US church takes this to heart.

By John Wynn - 10 May 2009

Milquetoast? Agreed!
How do you know so much about my church even though you haven’t been there in years? What you say rings true.

Eva heard a commentary on an NPR program which deepens this issue, especially regarding men: Men do not go to church because church is feminized! No “manly” hymns , like “Rise Up, O Men of God”. A friend at my church insists men are being marginalized even in the most “conservative” congregations: through worship, policy, ministry, you name it.

Happy Sabbath!

By Brody Bond - 10 May 2009

What are examples of things folks can be doing/saying on Sunday mornings even to start becoming a place outsiders want to come to?

I find after-church time to be often awkward. Tips?

By JoWynn Johns - 10 May 2009

“…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.”

I couldn’t agree more.

By Greg Rittler - 11 May 2009

Brody-

I don’t know that doing/saying different things is going to change much. I would say the question might be “are we willing to become the kind of people and places where the kingdom of God is obviously present in a way that people see and hear and want to join us?” For that I think it will take a long process of teaching people the ways of Jesus by practical means.

This may begin by teaching on what it actually means to be a disciple. There is great confusion in the church about this. Here is an example of that: http://tinyurl.com/qr4k8b. We need an understanding of what this life with Jesus is really like. I would say you could go a far distance with this definition: being with Jesus in order to become like Jesus. The pathway for a disciple is becoming like Jesus in everything that we do. This will take many years and much training but it can and does happen.

Scripture meditation has been crucial in my life. Certain passages in my own life have given me great encouragement and power to this end. I have memorized Psalm 16 and 23. Both of which, especially Psalm 23, embody the gospel more fully than I think I ever could in my own words. Memorizing these gives power to let go of self and live interactively with God. Also Colossians 3:1-17 has been a terrific passage to study. My life is hidden with Christ in God so now what: I put off things and take on the character of God.

Practically, I am working on what this looks like for a fellowship that I have met with for a few years. We have heard much great teaching from various people. This summer we are going to take that teaching and try to live out the disciplines in a Christ dependent life that we have learned about. I am still working on the details but perhaps it is fasting for an extended period followed by a time of interactive prayer with God where we listen first and then speak. Or it may be a time of solitude practiced with the group coming back and reporting what happened in their time. It may be that we engage in service opportunity that take us very much outside of our “box” and put us into situations that are uncomfortable.

I think that God enables and empowers us to be very creative with how we go down this journey. The means can be varied and constantly changing. I once read Psalm 16 for the better part of a year as the only scripture that I read. That season is over now and I am meditating on new passages. Reading through scripture quickly (many have done a 90 day program to read through the scripture). The bottom line is that you need to work with God to address those things that you need to address. This take time and insight and a fair amount of asking him to guide you.

There is great freedom, flexibility, and opportunity in the Kingdom for a new way of living. However, we need to step into it and take risks to see what God will do.

What are your thoughts about how to become more and more of a disciple of Christ?

Keep moving forward,

Greg

By JoWynn Johns - 11 May 2009

Psalm 16, in the Revised English Version, is my mantra. For 16 years I have recited it and parts of it over and over daily and especially during sleepless nights. “You will show me the path of life. In your Presence is fulness of joy. At your right hand are pleasures forever more.”

When I was breaking down and without diagnosis, I asked for guidance, and guidance has been coming ever since.

“The bottom line is that you need to work with God to address those things that you need to address. This take time and insight and a fair amount of asking him to guide you.” And all of the above. Living more and more in the Presence.

By JoWynn Johns - 11 May 2009

Too bad I can’t subscribe to your blog with my RSS reader.

By JoWynn Johns - 11 May 2009

My most succinct answer to your question above is, “Practice. Practice. Practice.”

By Pat Marsh - 12 November 2010

Hey, brother! Just catching up on some of your blogging as I really enjoy our relationship and value your thoughts on our shared faith – you know, us insiders!

Couldn’t agree more on the missing second part of the Great Commission. Studying the commands of Christ has always been a great way to help Christ followers grow in their faith.

We recently had a pastor from Indonesia who oversees some 10,000 plus Christians and their church bodies there and he was asked what he thought the single greatest challenge was facing the church today and he pretty much said it was our lack of “obedience”.

When all a church worries about is getting people in the door and getting them to join the club – which of course totally takes the sovereignty of God out of the picture – we end up with churches ( bodies of believers ) that are a mile wide and an inch deep and these are not the kind of people who look any different or even remotely attractive to people who aren’t part of the “club” yet.

That being said I will say that there is too much Scripture – including the very life, suffering and death of Christ – that makes it clear that to the majority of the world Christ followers are going to seem not too attractive and mostly just weird, offensive and scary. If we spend too much time working on how to make us and our message “attractive” instead of trusting that the Holy Spirit is going to shape us into the image bearers that we are supposed to be if we follow God’s Word as He’s revealed it to us and trusting in the POWER of the gospel – even the scary parts – then we are going to make a lot of people happy but very few people will be exposed to the first part of the Great Commission. Ultimately, seeking and saving the lost is what the story of the gospel is. All that flows from that – social justice, stewardship of the earth’s resources, the death of misogyny and ungodly feminism, the ending of racism and so on – are all products of our trusting God to be who He says He is and just getting out of His way while He works through our inadequate hands, hearts, mouths and feet! I put in mouths because the proclamation of the gospel requires speaking according to Scripture even though today we want to put all the emphasis on hands, feet and heart!

Just my usual short commentary!

By Diego - 28 November 2015

too- your blogs surely helps a lot :D).my plan is on 1st day-as anurvurg @ 9am -airport-hope can pass by the snake temple before headed to hotel)plans on 1st day-reclining budha,kek lok si,batu feringhi-hard rock,n gurney drive.on 2nd day going to orchid hibiscus-bkt jambul garden, then heritage tour.. So should I buy the pass? Also any suggestion of shopping area? :p thanks a lot

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