Having been raised in the church, I have heard numerous sermons, Sunday school lessons, and Wednesday night events that have encouraged the congregation to go out and invite our lost friends to church. Bulletins were always stuffed with invitations to all kinds of church activities. You could just hand someone a slip of paper with all the details to get them to come to church. Some pastors even go so far as to give each person an allotment of invitation cards to distribute. You weren’t really committed to church or evangelism unless you invited your unchurched friends and coworkers to the potluck dinner next Sunday evening.
In effect, it told us that our job as the church member is to simply extend the invitation and the pastor or youth minister would do the heavy lifting of actually winning lost souls for Jesus. No longer did we have to risk having a conversation with a lost person. You simply had to say, “Hey, why don’t you come to church with me?”
It gave the impression that the purpose of church is to evangelize. Its main job was to win lost souls to Jesus. The believer then simply had to invite them to church.
If that is the purpose of church – to evangelize and win lost souls to Jesu – then everything should be focused on accommodating the unbeliever. Everything about the church should be about drawing people to attend church events, whether it’s Sunday morning services or some other activity.
If that is the purpose of the church, then the music and service times should be accommodating to the likes and lives of unbelievers. The coffee should be freshly brewed with all the latest flavors and the entryway welcoming and engaging. The colors, the logos, the seats, the decorations should all be focused on what unbelievers might prefer.
If that is the purpose of the church, then all the activities of the church should be centered around what people in the community would want to attend. There should be fall festivals, Easter egg hunts, exercise classes, and pizza parties. The church should host whatever events would attract unchurched people into the building, or even just the parking lot.
When we think the role of the church is to win lost souls to Christ, we tend to move our focus onto unbelievers. The term from church growth consultants is “seeker sensitive.” This places the emphasis on what would make an unbeliever most comfortable and most likely to continue attending church.
Is that the purpose of the church though?
In Scripture, the church is always described as the gathering of believers. It is referred to as the family of God (1 Timothy 3:15), the body of Christ of which Christ is the head (Ephesians 1:22-23), and even the bride of Christ for whom Christ gave Himself up (Ephesians 5:25-33).
Therefore, the church consists of those who are committed to following Jesus. It is the coming together of people who all profess Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. While unbelievers are certainly welcome to attend, they are not part of the church unless they are committed to following Jesus.
But maybe the purpose then should be to attract new members, to draw people in so that they will become committed followers of Jesus? After all, Jesus did give the Great Commission to “go and make disciples.”
That is most definitely something that believers are to do, but is that the purpose in the gathering of believers, the church? According to the Scriptures, the purpose of church is for fellow believers to meet regularly for worship, teaching, fellowship, and prayer.
To teach the believer
Acts 2:42 describes the early church as, “They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” In Paul’s letters to Timothy, he reminds him to “devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching” (1 Timothy 4:13) and to “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (2 Timothy 4:2).
The focus for church should not be on how to draw in unbelievers, the focus should be on teaching believers – exhorting them, rebuking them, reading scripture, and teaching.
Paul relates all of this together in Ephesians 4:11-16: “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds, and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”
Paul expounds on the analogy that the church is the body of Christ and Christ is the head of the church. But he also explains why God gave different roles to individual believers. Each role is for the building up the body of believers. The teaching and shepherding are for the benefit of the believer.
The activities of the church then are to grow the believer to become more Christ-like, to prepare the believer for the battle of ideas from the world, and to equip the believer to go do ministry. Therefore, within the church, the purpose is not to evangelize the lost but to equip the believer to evangelize the lost. Notice in the Great Commission, Jesus doesn’t say, “Go and invite people to church.” Jesus says, “Go and make disciples.”
Therefore, the teachings, the sermons, and the lessons taught within the church should be focused on equipping the believer. The goal of the church should be to increase the believer’s understanding of Scripture and to deepen the believer’s knowledge of who God is.
To worship God
Another purpose of the gathering together of the believers is to worship God. In Colossians 3:16, Paul says, “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”
Believers gather together in order to worship God with songs, psalms, and hymns out of a thankful heart. It is not to provide entertainment for believers nor is it to provide entertainment to draw in unbeliever. If our worship is to God, we should consider what kind of worship God desires.
It is clear throughout Scripture that worship in and of itself is not what is pleasing to God. It must be worship directed to Him in a proper way. Jesus told the Samaritan woman that she must worship in Spirit and in truth.
When the Israelites melted down their jewelry to form a golden calf as part of their worship, God was not honored or pleased. He didn’t want them to just worship. God wanted them to worship Him in truth. When Cain brought forward his offering of fruits and vegetables, God was not honored or pleased. Cain brought what Cain wanted to bring, instead of bringing what God required.
When we gather as a church to worship God, it cannot be about how we like to worship or what makes us feel good or what may bring in a bigger crowd of people. It must be worship truly directed to God. This isn’t about whether the music is fast or slow, what kind of instruments are used, or even what era the songs were written in. The point is, are all those things bringing honor to God and pleasing God? Or are they focused on attracting others? Are the lyrics of the songs we sing centered on God’s attributes or are they centered on our feelings? Are we giving praise to the God of the Bible, or a smaller idea of God that we hold in our minds?
What about unbelievers?
If the focus of the church is on drawing in unbelievers, we run the risk of dressing up the church to look like the world in order to appeal to the world. Instead, we should be adorning ourselves for God. The church is the bride of Christ; we should be focused on preparing ourselves for the bridegroom, not enticing those who are enemies of the bridegroom.
Rather, we should show the world what it looks like to worship and honor the One True God. When an unbeliever does enter into the gathering together of believers, they should see a people captivated by an amazing God. They should see worship that gives all the focus to God in truth. They should hear the truth of God spoken and proclaimed boldly. And by doing that, we may even win an unbeliever to the truth of God. Church should look different from anything else the world does because it is different from anything else the world does.