Should you invite people to church?
This may sound like a strange question. “Sure! Why not?” you might think. But some maybe aren’t so sure.
In John Stott’s study on Acts, you will find this statement:
“When we contrast much contemporary evangelism with Paul’s, its shallowness is immediately shown up. Our evangelism tends to be focused on simply inviting people to church. Paul also took the gospel out into the secular world…” (p. 84)
To be precise and fair to this quote, we should note he does say “simply inviting.” We can agree on this nuance: Evangelism is not simply or just inviting people to church. But what concerns me is the pejorative context here. It almost sounds like “inviting people to church” is “shallowness.”
And regardless of Stott’s intent, I have personally heard others dismiss inviting people to church as an outmoded means of outreach.
Is this assertion and dismissal correct? Maybe the time has passed in our culture for such invitations to make sense
But then again, I’m not so sure.
Larry Osborne makes, for me anyway, an interesting counter point. He writes:
“…[T]he reality is that in the American church, very few people come to Christ through a small group. It’s much more likely that their first exposure to the gospel will come through a conversation with a friend, followed by a visit to a church’s special program or worship service.
The reason is pretty simple. For the average non-Christian in America, it’s far more threatening to walk into a home Bible study than to walk into a worship service. That’s because virtually everyone has a vague familiarity with church buildings – even if it’s only through an occasional wedding or funeral. They know what the inside looks like. They know they can sit in the back (on the aisle) and quickly leave if things get out of hand.
Not so with a small group that meets in a home or apartment. To most non-Christians, a home Bible study sounds intense, maybe cultish. They have no idea what goes on in there. They wonder, “What if it gets weird? Will people try to sell me something: supplements, indulgences, maybe a time-share? Can I leave if I want to?”(Osborne, Sticky Church, pp. 143-144)
In this quote, Osborne is contrasting small group outreach with church service outreach. But what I find interesting is that he says being invited to church is still intelligible to people in America and even a natural first step. Why? Because most people have been to a church. Maybe for a wedding or a funeral or perhaps an Eagle Scout ceremony. That familiarity makes an invitation to church a reasonably comfortable proposal.
Now, again, I agree that evangelism is not just or simply inviting people to church, but as Osborne points out, I still think it is a great option and a great place to start for many, and I don’t want the average church attender to feel that option is off the table.
So, let us do more than just invite unbelievers to church. Let’s invite folks, in the name of Jesus, into our lives, into our houses, and into our hearts. But, yes, as the Lord leads, let’s invite them to church, too.
What say you?