I truly feel bad for a pastor who believes that if his church simply changes the style of its worship service, unbelievers are going to start coming on Sunday morning. For many, this has and continues to be a type of strategy to get non-Christians to church. While I am all for seeing unbelievers come to hear the gospel and just the thought of it excites me, I have never understood the logic behind efforts to attract those who are non-Christians to come to a church service.
I fear that the church is setting herself up for disappointment when this is the vision that is cast. Personally, I don’t know an unbeliever who is likely to attend a church service, with very occasional exceptions. These would be after a tragedy – when many claimed Christian faith after the events of 9/11/01 –- or on Mother’s Day, because it would “mean so much to Nana.” Unbelievers aren’t coming for any of the reasons churches think they might.
Why would an unbeliever come to church because there is free coffee? He can drive through the Starbucks line, pay $3.00, and be home within 15 minutes.
What about great branding and social media? I have some difficult news to break to you: unbelievers in your community probably aren’t following your church on social media.
The pastor is really funny? So is YouTube.
All these efforts and creative ideas are perfectly designed, unintentionally, to attract people who hop around from church to church, looking for the flavor of the month. The efforts, resources of time and money, and overall planning of the church’s outreach is often well-suited to reach the disgruntled or bored Christian next door, which is not the mission of the church of Jesus Christ. If we are going to faithfully reach the lost in our communities through the local church, we need to start by reminding ourselves the basic truth that church people go to churches, and unbelievers generally do not. Taking that into account, where I serve, we really want unbelievers to come. So we have an entire strategy built around reaching our own members. If people love their church, they will want their non-Christian friends to join them.
People come to church on the arm of a trusted friend because of a relationship and an invitation. Rather than trying to attract unbelievers with elements and efforts they will never even know exist, we try to reach our own members by creating a church they actually want to be part of themselves. I’m not going to invite a non-Christian friend I’ve been investing in for months or years to a church service I secretly wish I didn’t have to attend.
“Isn’t the Great Commission reason enough?” one might ask. Actually, the Great Commission is the very reason why I would not bring a friend to a church service that lacks gospel-centered preaching, devalues excellence, has a mediocre children’s ministry, bad coffee, and unfriendly people. My friend is going to give church one shot, and I’m going to do everything in my power to ensure the overall experience is positive, praying the Holy Spirit convicts and the conversations we’ve had will deepen because he’s come to church with me.
At my church, our strategy to reach our own people consists of two elements that are not spoken or advertised, but rather practiced and valued. We call it the “double promise.”
Promise 1: No disclaimer on the drive to church.
I don’t want our church members to have to give a string of “Oh, by the way,” disclaimers on their way to church with a friend. Maybe you’ve heard, or given, some of these:
Oh by the way, the pastor is very political, but he means well.
Oh by the way, I know you are introverted, but they ask new people to stand up and be recognized.
Oh by the way, there is this lady who sings, and she is awful, but her husband is the guy in charge of the music.
By valuing excellence and being intentional in how we do church, we eliminate the need to give disclaimers, and also uphold the second part of the double-promise.
Promise 2: No apologies on the drive home.
In the same way, we never want church members to feel the need to apologize because of something unnecessarily offensive that happened during the service.
“I’m so sorry, he has never made a joke about gay people.”
“I’m so sorry, the children’s ministry security has never been this lax.”
“I’m so sorry, our pastor has never shown so little compassion on that issue.”
When you bring someone to church, it is a big deal. The invitation was not random. The person’s agreement to come was not random. Most likely, there have been months of conversations and time spent together to earn your friend’s trust and invite him or her. And when he or she comes, you are entrusting your church with that person. The double promise is not showy or attractional; it is a culture created to ensure church members that we aren’t going to ruin all the missional effort they have put into relationships.
The church where I serve as lead pastor is made up of people who are passionate about getting unbelievers to come to our Sunday gatherings. We do not believe it is the end goal, but we absolutely and unapologetically push our church members to bring their friends to church, and we value it when they come. If we stopped making this a priority, our church members would wonder if we had lost our way. By the Lord’s kindness to us, we have seen tremendous results from the efforts to bring unbelievers to church and allow them to hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The double promise is essential for us, because if an unbeliever is going to join us on a Sunday morning, it isn’t because he or she heard our band is awesome or the pastor is relatable. It is because a friend who loves the church and cannot wait for the opportunity to bring others invited that person. This is the true way in which we leverage a Sunday service for the unbeliever.