When I was a kid, I remember a huge emphasis on inviting non-Christian friends to attend church services. We even had a day called “Friendship Sunday.” Just fifteen years ago it wasn’t unusual for people to accept an invitation to church. Some churches even designed Sunday evening services to be primarily evangelistic. Many people in the church I now serve came to Christ at one of these services. They attended their theologically liberal church in the morning and attended a service at our church with a friend in the evening. The thought was that by inviting friends to church they might hear and respond to the gospel.
Eventually this emphasis on inviting non-believers to church gave way to the “Seeker Sensitive Movement.” Championed by Willow Creek and Saddleback, these churches grew very large and designed their services primarily to be welcoming to unchurched people. Andy Stanley advocates for something similar in his book Deep and Wide: Creating Churches Unchurched People Love to Attend.
The problem with the Seeker Sensitive Movement was ultimately discovered by none other than the one of the founders; Willow Creek eventually discovered that their “seeker” model was not actually making disciples.
In response to the seeker movement, many pastors said that church services were not for non-believers anyway, and therefore they should not cater to the preferences of outsiders. These churches made it clear that the purpose of church gatherings was to equip people to reach their family and friends with the gospel on their own.
Both groups had swung the pendulum too far. In reality, churches actually do not have to choose whether or not to edify believers or to evangelize non-believers. Their services should accomplish both.
The Apostle Paul actually says this in 1 Corinthians 12:24,25. He advocates that worship services should be done with order and must be understandable to non-Christians:
“But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you.”
Paul assumes – and rightly so – that non-believers are attending church services. The same is true today; non-believers attend church more often than we know. Edmund Clowney calls this “Doxological Evangelism.”
Tim Keller says in his book Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City:
“It is a false dichotomy to insist we must choose between seeking to please God and being concerned with what unchurched people are thinking during our worship services.”
For our worship to be evangelistic we must do two things:
1. Make Worship Comprehensible to Non-believers. We can do this by worshiping and preaching in language that is common to the wider culture, explaining the service as we go along, and speaking directly to the nonbelievers present by answering common objections and questions they might have. If we start planning our gatherings like non-Christians are present, they will begin to show up.
2. Preach the Gospel. If our sermons and songs make the gospel clear and raise our affection for Jesus, then there will be no question who it is we worship. If the gospel is for all of life, then its implications should be explained. In doing so, the gospel is understandable to the non-believer and stirs the believer to a deeper devotion.
So Christian, invite your friends to church. People are much more likely to accept an invitation than we realize (recent research supports this idea), and God can use this type of evangelism for them to discover Jesus and respond in faith. May we see many respond in the way Paul describes: “the secrets of their heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face he will worship God and declare that God is really among you.”