All around America churches exhort their members to bring their friends, neighbors, and co-workers to church. This is particularly common in children and youth programs and the idea is to fulfill the great commission. The idea is for the pastor to talk about how to meet Jesus in order to usher your friends into the faith. The Gospel is watered down so as to not offend anyone and the people hear a simple message about saying a little prayer, and that is all it takes to become saved! The church becomes the free (or is that 10 percent of our income) Sunday entertainment.
The people talk about making the front doors and lobby appearance beautiful and friendly. One church I visited had elegant marble counters and flowers; clearly a million-dollar lobby build. On the contrary, one of the best places I have visited was Pacific Garden Mission which decided not to invest in ceiling tiles to cut the costs and direct funds back into the ministry. It was a criticism taken to heart by the founder of God’s Ark of Safety ministries after his failed attempt to build a replica ark. He abandoned the project to funnel resources back into the poor instead. The church should not be filtering tons of money into making a first impression, the love of the members is who should be doing that. After all, the fastest growth in the church were the days when church buildings were illegal!
Although it is the love of the people that produces the best welcome, if it is prescribed or scripted, it is bound to fail. I attended a church once that the people were genuinely friendly, not because they had a protocol in place, but because the love of Christ flowed out of them. I was welcomed, but not over-burdened by that welcome. This was a very different experience when compared my visit to an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist church that had such a protocol for new people in place that I was genuinely frightened! I would have made a b-line for the door if I was not with a friend that day. I came in with my friend, a known and regular member, and the guy at the door recognized that I was new. He had his “great to see you” fake smile with the line of people before me only letting them in after his greeting. When I was in line, he asks if I am new. Once I confirmed that fact, he grabs my hand and gives me the script:
Great to have you. You need to go to this guy at the table [pointing to an attendant at the visitors table], leave your contact information and he will give you the brochure on the service and the ministries of the church. He will then take you in to find a seat….
I interrupted his script; with my temperament, I felt very uncomfortable. I told him that I will be fine and I do not give out my contact information to a church before hearing the sermon. I was aghast that they had all this in place for a visitor, but the truth is many churches attempt to put these procedures in place.
All of this is to suggest that the purpose of the church has been co-opted by marketing and made into a consumer destination for unbelievers. We are told to invite everyone we know to church suggesting that is the missing component of their life. Of course, life in the church in America is hardly a spectacle of love, worship, or even thinking on God! Looking around the congregation, the people we invite will not see many Bibles, the very book that provides the foundation for our faith! We will see phones and tablets, but rarely are the electronic screens displaying the Holy text, but maybe the friend’s text or worse, Facebook! Our friends will meet our church friends, but churches around the country break into cliques that ignore most of the rest of the people in the building, all while talking about anything except for God or our walk with Him. It is time for us to clean up our own house!
Suppose that we fix the problems with focus and worship, we still do not need to invite everyone to church. America, the purpose of the church has never been to save the unbelievers and the church was not supposed to be a place for the unbelievers to gather. We are the bride of Christ, the holy people set aside for the marriage day when we are brought out of the world into union with Him. We should certainly be welcoming to all people, Christian or otherwise, who wander into the worship service, but the church was not meant for the unbeliever. The church is meant for the believer.
The pastor should be developing a sermon from the Word that will challenge the people into action for their faith. Their faith should be so overwhelming to the world around them that people flock to the believers in love, and out of the love is the peace of Jesus Christ. We should not be divisive, argumentative, or hateful, but we should quietly do our work getting along with others. When other people ask us how we can survive in this crazy world, we need to be prepared to tell them. That, in a nutshell, is what we are to do in our own commission, and the purpose of the church to the believer is to equip them to that end.