In a recent blog post my very good friend John Stevens made some comments about the presence of non-Christians in church services. So for example he writes: We need to face up to the fact that we have to take the gospel to people, and not just invite them to come to where we preach it.
I think to a man we would all a big amen to that. No church can afford to limit its evangelism to a ‘they have to come to us’ rather than a ‘we go to them’ model.
But John goes further than the strategic question of how best to gain the gospel a hearing to state a theological conviction that ‘inviting to church’ is not how we should look, primarily, to do our evangelism. He writes:
This doesn’t seem to be the New Testament model. In the NT, church” is the gathering for committed believers, designed to encourage and edify them. Occasionally an unbeliever might come in amongst them (1 Corinthians 14v24). The gospel is to be taken and proclaimed outside of the church
I want to push a little further so for what it’s worth here is the first of two posts on Why church services need to be the primary focus for our evangelism. I want to make the case that church ought to be the primary place for our evangelism both for the sake of the non-Christian AND for the sake of the Christian. Today I’ll focus on the non-Christian.
For the sake of the non-Christian
Although there are lots of ways in which a non-Christian can here the gospel preached through personal evangelism, enquirer courses, social or evangelistic events, the non-Christian needs to hear the gospel preached to the Christian and for that they need to be in a predominantly Christian environment.
Why do I say that? The same gospel of justification is God’s means of both conversion and transformation. It changes the lives of non-Christians and Christians and the non-Christian is greatly helped towards faith in Christ when they hear something of why and how the gospel is God’s power to not only save but to transform. They grasp how the gospel sets you free from idols of self (money, sex or power) they learn how forgiveness towards another human is possible because the resources for forgiveness are there in the gospel, they grasp how the gospel enables and strengthens marriage as the Christian is challenged from the Bible to love their wives as Christ has loved the church.
No-one has modelled preaching the gospel to Christian and non-Christian at the same time in recent years than Tim Keller. He has demonstrated that an attractional model can work in an extremely secular, hostile environment. It takes a great deal of skill and almost a whole new method of preaching to do this well but it works. New Frontiers, perhaps the fastest growing Reformed church-movement in the UK works almost entirely on this model too and God has greatly blessed their work.
As we teach non-Christians how the gospel of grace saves (justification) so they know exactly what response is required of them but then as we teach Christians how the gospel of grace continues to save (working out salvation in sanctification) so non-Christians grasp the life-changing, transformative power that is in the gospel.
In my experience non-Christians are thinking ‘what difference does the gospel make’, ‘how does it work’, ‘what impact would it have on my life’, as they listen in to preaching aimed at the Christian so they learn in real time and through real experience the answer to their questions.
Secondly, as Francis Schaeffer once said the greatest apologetic is love. Only as a non-Christian enters the Christian community can they see, taste and experience both how Christians love one another and also how loved and welcome they are amongst God’s people. How many non-Christians upon conversion talk of how this dynamic of love and acceptance has struck them as unique to the church?The market-place, or the office water-cooler for that matter, is simply not a place where this dynamic can be experienced.
Thirdly, the unity in diversity of God’s new community is unlike anything we can experience anywhere else. A church full of all sorts of people, across all cultural divides and age and race barriers is a phenomena that is humanly inexplicable. Here is the gospel in glorious technicolour! We need to invite non-Christians to see it for themselves.
I could go on with at least three more reasons but I think this is enough for now.
I’m not surprised that more people are converted at City Church by coming along to our church Sunday by Sunday than by attending A Passion for Life (not that I am anything but an enthusiastic supporter of such initiatives!).
What does this mean for City Church Birmingham?
We expect non-Christians to be present in our services.
We speak as if non-Christians are present
We work very hard in our sermons to speak to both Christian and non-Christian at the same time.
We encourage Christians to simply bring their friends and they do!
One final reflection: I think the attractional model works well amongst younger people in urban contexts than some other settings. I agree with John that it is harder to get people into churches than a generation ago but in a city like Birmingham where 37% of our population is 25 or under, church remains my primary focus for evangelism.
I was converted when a friend had the courage to invite me to go with him to a normal Sunday service and I thank God that he did.
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