Inviting people to church is not evangelism—but it is a good start.
Evangelism is presenting the gospel to those who don’t believe and inviting them to believe. It is a proclamation about Christ that leads to an invitation to follow Him. Neither of these component parts are present when a Christian invites his or her neighbor to attend a church service. It is an offer to participate in an event, not choose a savior. Inviting someone to church is not evangelism.
And it’s not enough.
Too many people have chosen to visit a church because they were encouraged to do so by a friend and end up staying. They walked into an inviting facility, received a warm welcome, and then sat through a strangely comforting service. They can’t put a finger on it, but something about the experience warmed them and they decided to return. Their attendance turned out to be regular and soon enough they joined the ranks of the unsaved churched. They had found a church, but have not encountered Jesus.
But isn’t it the preacher’s responsibility to explain the gospel? He has the training, the gifting, and the opportunity. He’s the professional, so it would seem sensible to let him do the talking. If we can get people into the pews, then the reverend can do the evangelizing. Indeed he can, and most often does. The preachers that I know are diligent to include the gospel in their teaching, and it’s a fruitful discipline. People hear the good news and respond with repentance and faith. Many people are evangelized from the pulpit. But this is not the sole, or necessarily best, manner of evangelism.
I have had the opportunity to share the gospel many, many times. I have done it from a stage and also from a seat, and sometimes I have presented it in both formats to the same individual. A person who sat under my teaching has ended up sitting in my office and in both environments they have heard the same thing from me—the gospel. And, from this experience, I have discovered that the personal conversation is more effective than the public call. People are more likely to choose Jesus when they are personally asked than if they receive the invitation as part of a large audience. I could guess as to why this is the case, but my reasons would be unhelpful speculation. The point I am trying to make, is that getting people into a church service is not the best strategy for evangelism. It may, however, be the beginning of a good strategy.
Having friends and neighbors attend a worship service with you opens your relationship to new topics of discussion. A shared experience allows for enquiry:
“What was your experience like?”
“How did you feel?”
“What do you think?”
“Did you learn anything new?”
Such an enquiry is quite typical. Asking these questions after any shared experience would be perfectly normal, whether it is a sports event or a church service. This is how relationships are built. A common experience binds people together and their relationships deepen as they explore it with one another. It is in these conversations that the gospel makes an easy entrance into conversation. You can quite naturally progress from the topic of Christ’s body to Christ himself, and before you notice it, you are evangelizing.
Have you invited an unchurched person to church? I hope you have. I especially hope that you realize that their primary trouble is not that they are unchurched. They need more than a church home—they need a savior. If you have invited people to church, I applaud your efforts. You are loving others well. Now, be sure to process the experience with them. Move them from their encounter with Jesus’ people to meeting with Jesus himself. You don’t have to be a particularly skilled evangelist, just a verbal one. The eternal destiny of others does not rest in the way we speak the gospel but in the work of God that matches our words with a longing soul.
No, inviting people to church is not evangelism—but it is a good start. A really good start.