Now that September is upon us and children are back in school, the yearly routine begins again. We get caught up with all the activities, the seasonal holidays, and the church calendar. What we normally neglect is thinking about our neighbors and inviting them to church. Why is it so hard for us to ask another to the church we dearly love?
According to the National Back to Church website, 82% of the unchurched are somewhat likely to attend a church if invited. Yet, only 2 % of church members actually extend an invitation to an unchurched person. 56% of the unchurched are receptive to information about a local church if given by a friend or neighbor. The percentage increases to 66% if a relative offers the information. Of the formerly churched, 62%, although not actively looking, are open to the idea of returning to church. The problem therefore is not the attitude of the unchurched, but the failure of church members to invite friends and family to church.
Professor Chuck Lawless of Southeastern Seminary list a number of reasons he believes people don’t invite others to church. I have taken a few and readdressed them. Let’s see if we fall into any of the categories.
- “I hardly think about it.” We have contact with many unbelievers, but we just don’t think about inviting them to church. Paul told us not to disassociate ourselves with unbelievers, for then we would be isolating ourselves from the world (1 Cor. 5:10). We are not “of the world” but we are “in the world” (John 17:16; 18). This means that as believers we are Christ’s representatives to those around us and need to start thinking and praying for our unchurched neighbors. Rather than seeing them as goats, maybe we should view them as lost sheep.
- I’m afraid of the rejection.” We have the tendency to rationalize that unbelievers will reject our invitation; so why ask in the first place? Silence avoids the pain of someone saying “no” to us. Statistics, however, show that a large majority will not rebuff us. Although we may be rejected at times, our neighbors hardly ever do so with rudeness and unkindness. But even then, our Lord said we are blessed when others revile us on account of him (Matt. 5:11). And who are we to fear? If Christ is for us, who can really be against us (Rom. 8:31)?
- “I’m embarrassed about my church.” Some don’t like the worship style. Others fear that their friends will find the church unfriendly and lacking warmth. Still others see problems in the church that leaders have not addressed. Churches are not perfect, but that is not an excuse for not inviting people. Church members should convey their feelings or their issues to leadership; and then pray for the leaders who seek God’s will for the church. Complaining without being involved in the church is not a constructive attitude. We need to love the church in which God has placed us and support it prayerfully, financially, and productively, which then gives us the right to be heard.
- “The preacher is boring.” Although church members may love their pastor, they may not be overjoyed with his preaching. They won’t leave the church, but they will not invite neighbors because the preaching is poor. The pastor does have the responsibility of delivering God’s truth in a way that is whimsical, inspiring, and easy to understand. Yet, the pastor needs his flock to consistently pray for him as he prepares, researches, and writes his sermons. There is also more to the local church than the preacher. People make up the church and a loving and gracious congregation is more attractive than a smooth-talking pastor.
- “Nobody ever challenged me to invite my neighbor.” This may be a church leadership problem. Outward thinking churches are constantly looking for ways to extend their influence into the local community. One way is to have a friend’s Sunday and invite neighbors on the Sunday that lunch is served after the service. Socializing around food makes it easier for visitors to meet others in the church, especially if a friend or neighbor invited them.
- “I don’t know how to ask someone to come to church.” In a culture where talking about religion is offensive to many, opening a conversation about church is difficult. What makes it easier is a social atmosphere where unchurched neighbors are invited to dinner along with some church friends. An informal social gathering allows the unchurched to meet friendly church people, hopefully destroying biased attitudes toward the stereotypical Christian. Such an atmosphere makes it more conducive for inviting neighbors to church.
- “It’s the Holy Spirit’s job to attract people to church.” God works through his people to accomplish his purpose. We don’t know whom God is drawing to himself, but we will never get glimpses of his sovereignty in action if we refuse to ask people to church. Gratitude for our own salvation demands we extend God’s grace to others. People who are attracted to us will most likely be attracted to our church if we just reach out and touch them with the love of Christ.
State Farm Insurance Company’s slogan is: Like a Good Neighbor, State Farm is There! That should be the slogan of the local church. Like a Good Neighbor, My Church is There! The church is God’s instrument for serving people, for bringing compassion to those in need, and for extending the gospel to the lost. May we as the church be a good neighbor and reach out to the community, inviting them to our services and ministering to their needs.