Welcome to our Wednesday “Ask Beau” post. The purpose of this weekly feature is to provide you, our readers, with biblical responses to questions you have about practical issues that you face.
As always, you may submit questions for future “Ask Beau” posts by contacting us at email@example.com or by leaving a comment on this post.
(Note: This post was originally published on thefrontieratgrace.com on December 7, 2011)
Maybe you read the title of this post and thought to yourself, “Is there any question? Of course we should bring unbelievers to church!”
I’d like to suggest that the answer to the question in the title is not as unequivocally “Yes” as we might think. In my opinion, we should be more concerned about getting the church to unbelievers than we are about getting unbelievers to church.
The verses that are perhaps most central to the mission of the local church are Matthew 28:19–20, which state: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (ESV; emphasis mine). Jesus’ charge, which is called the Great Commission, helps us understand that evangelism is an outwardly oriented endeavor. The basic model is for believers to go “out” to evangelize unbelievers, not for unbelievers to come “in” to be evangelized by believers.
If the church is really a body of believers and not a building or a service, then it is not only possible but advantageous to try to make our primary evangelistic contacts with unbelievers occur outside the walls of a church building—that is, to “get the church to unbelievers,” as I stated it above. When we think in these terms, each member of the body takes an active role in evangelism, and the task of preaching the Gospel becomes every believer’s privilege rather than one that is outsourced to the “professionals,” the paid pastoral staff, who cast the evangelistic net on Sunday mornings.
When we think of evangelism mostly in terms of bringing unbelievers to church, this puts pressure on us to make our gatherings of the church body less distinct from the surrounding culture than they should be. The divide between American culture and the Christian faith is as wide as it has ever been. Fewer and fewer unbelievers feel comfortable in a church service. Yes, a church could try to address this issue by seeking to make the central gatherings of the church body as inoffensive as possible to unbelievers, but I think a better tack is to maintain the Christian distinctiveness of these gatherings, recognizing that our unbelieving friends and acquaintances will feel more comfortable in these services once we have had good discussions with them about Christianity and once they have at least wrestled with, if not accepted, the need to place their trust in Jesus Christ for salvation.
All believers should ultimately be connected with a local church body (see our prior post on this), but when it comes to evangelism, we would do well to seek to make our primary contacts with unbelievers happen outside the walls of the church building, on their “turf,” so to speak. May our efforts be pleasing to God, and may they increase the number of those who belong to His church.