Yes, you read that right. Stop inviting people to church. I know your pastor says to do it, and I know it seems like the good Christian thing to do– but stop it. I really mean it.
Some time ago I was sitting in church listening to a preacher say how important it is to invite your friends, family, and co-workers to church. You should be inviting people every week, but you should work especially hard to get them into church on Easter! That way, they can hear the gospel and accept Jesus as their Lord and their lives will be changed, right?
So how many times has that worked out for you? Probably a lot less than you would have hoped. I think I’ve discovered why.
[This is part of a series titled Things I Couldn't Say When I Worked For The Church. You can view the rest of the posts in the series here.]
We’ve gotten lazy. The “come to church with me” mentality has become a crutch. A crutch that allows us to sit back and depend on the preacher’s sermon to show the people we care about who Jesus is. Believe it or not, that’s not what Jesus and his disciples modeled. But it has become the model that our Christian culture has adopted, and guess what; it just doesn’t work anymore.
Here’s what happens– you invite your friend to church with you ever single week. You practically plead with them– heck you even offer to buy them lunch afterwards. So what happens then? Your friend comes, as a favor to you. They stand out of respect during praise and worship, a good start. Then the pastor gets up to preach. It’s go time! Unfortunately, this is the one week that your pastor is preaching that really uncomfortable message that you wouldn’t want your friend to hear just yet.
You were hoping it would be a “Gospel week” where your pastor gives a killer presentation and your guest is “cut to the heart” like in Acts 2:37, and realizes they need Jesus. You are hoping that it will be so powerful that your friend leaps out of their seat during the altar call and heads straight for the baptismal! But it doesn’t happen. You’re disappointed. They don’t come back to church with you again.
If we continue to rely on our pastors to share the gospel with our friends, family, neighbors, and co-workers, we will never see the real fruit of being a disciple.
I think one of the most powerful talks that has stuck with me was at a Catalyst conference back in 2009. Erwin McManus talked about the different “spaces” that we all have. The first space is our comfort space. The place we live and thrive, and where people are like us– the place that is most comfortable. This can be our home, our church, or anywhere everybody knows our name (no, I’m not talking about the TV show Cheers). This is a place where relationships are close and long established. Then there is the second space– a common ground that you share with others. This could be a work environment, school, or public area. It is a place where people are mutually out interacting, but not as intimate as the first space. Then there’s the third space, a space where you are a foreigner. It’s a place that is the first space to someone else and is unfamiliar ground to you.
When you invite an “unchurched” friend to visit your church, you’re inviting them to an unfamiliar place. You’re inviting them into a third space. You’re asking them to come out of their comfort zone into a place that is foreign and unknown (or unfamiliar and seen as hostile). You’re telling them, “You need to leave your space to come to mine.”
This isn’t what Paul did. In Acts 17:16 we see Paul in Athens. He was so disturbed by the rampant idolatry that “his spirit was provoked within him”. So he went to the synagoge (his first space) and reasoned with them. Then day after day he went to the market place (second space) and reasoned with anyone and everyone he could. Most people thought he was just a crazy babbler– but he kept at it. Eventually, he made such an impression that a group of philosophers invited him to come to their first space (Paul’s third space) where he was able to go as a foreigner and share the Gospel.
So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there. Some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers also conversed with him. And some said, “What does this babbler wish to say?” Others said, “He seems to be a preacher of foreign divinities”—because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection. And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? For you bring some strange things to our ears. We wish to know therefore what these things mean.” Now all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new. -Acts 17:17-21
Paul didn’t have to drag people out of their spaces, he met people where they were. Jesus did the same, and he continues to meet and love people where they are. Most of Jesus’ work was not done inside the walls of the synagoge, but in the streets, the marketplaces, and homes of others.
Let’s make it a point to love people where they are. Let’s resolve that it’s not the pastor’s job to share the gospel with our friends, family, neighbors, and co-workers. Let’s become so good at making an impact on the second space that people invite us into the third space where we might reach even more. Let’s stop inviting people to church, and start inviting people to a relationship where they are.
There will certainly be some pastors who disagree with me on this– it threatens their Sunday morning numbers. But that’s a whole different can of worms for another day.
Are you willing to stop inviting people to church and start loving people in the second space? You can leave a comment by clicking here.