Did you know that church attendance is waning nationwide? Did you know that even though the Baby Boomers still consider it the cultural norm, by in large, to go to church every week, but Gen Xers and Millennials may have not been raised in the church, and even if they were they see it as optional. Even the most devout of us skip church for a myriad of reasons: I’m too tired, it’s pretty outside, it’s raining outside, I want to go to brunch instead…
And while we are constantly encouraged as people to know ourselves, to verbalize our feelings, to go to therapy and counseling to get help and grow spiritually and emotionally, we are also encouraged to believe that we find strength and ability within ourselves and the control is ourselves. We also keep those conversations to ourselves and rarely bring up those deep topics outside of assigned times where we pay someone to listen.
What this means, at least in part, is that the Church is no longer consider a place people go for emotional or spiritual help. We still have a reputation for helping the poor, and those who need money or food will still call around looking for handouts. But it is a rare occurrence that someone will be hurting, struggling or searching for truth and therefore choose to find a local church and go.
Many traditional churches, however, are still functioning with the mindset that people will wander in off the streets. We update our buildings, we get fancy sound systems, we assign greeters at the doors and make pretty signs all with the hopes that the great un-reached masses will miraculously flood in our doors. I personally know of a church that spent over a year updating their building and praying for people to come in the doors and utilized the motto “Company Is Coming” in order to pump up the congregation.
Company never came.
Why not? Because humanity does not seek after God. We are unrighteous, we are selfish, we are sinners and we are enemies of God, and fundamentally we are Spiritually dead:
“There is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God; all have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good, there is not even one.”
– Rom 3.10-12
– Rom 5.10
“And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience.”
– Eph 2.1-2
Spiritually dead people, unrighteous people, and people who are enemies of God do not come to the conclusion on their own that they need Spiritual life, that they need to repent and that God might be the answer. It is possible that they would consider religion as an answer – as one of Satan’s greatest tactics is to assure people that they are ethically and morally upstanding and headed to Heaven in eternity. But Satan’s tactic in false religions is to blind people to the Gospel and convince them that they can be good enough by their own efforts, leaving them still Spiritually dead and without hope.
Therefore, if your church boldly claims the Gospel of salvation by grace alone through faith alone, Satan will not draw crowds into your sanctuary. And Spiritually dead people – those people we want and need to reach will not be drawn to our buildings.
But you know what? That is OK!
Never once did Jesus tell the disciples to sit around and wait for people to come to them. He commanded them, and us, to go! Our recent past has deceived us, slightly, in that the 18th to early 20th century culture was at least nominally Christian, there was minimal entertainment and community events were often held in the Church buildings. Thus, there was a social pressure to attend, people were always there for events, and traveling evangelists drew a crowd for weekend or week long gatherings. As we continue down the path of a post-Christian culture, we are finding ourselves in a situation much more similar to the early church, however, and we have to go to them.
God used a variety of strategies to get the Gospel out and to make believers. He sent the disciples out, and they preached on the street corners, started local groups, preached to the governing authorities when they were arrested, and started churches. He sent Paul and his various counterparts on missionary journeys to travel to the “known world”, where Paul entered religious centers and places of worship as well as city centers where he reasoned with people one-on-one and also preached to the crowds. He started churches in almost every city he visited thus. God also used persecution and the threat of death to scatter believers throughout the known world: Christians were threatened of their lives so they ran for safety. Wherever they settled, they would share with their new neighbors and friends and people would be saved and churches were established.
In short, God sends people out and it is through their intentional efforts in the streets, in the marketplace, in their relationships, that other people came to know Jesus and salvation. The Gospel organically spread along natural relational lines. Often times entire households would believe, and they would share with other households who would believe. Other times, individuals would hear and believe and take it home with them to their friends and families.
“And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
– Matt 28.18-20
It has been researched that most people would attend church if they were invited. But even still, the onus is squarely on the people of God to share the Gospel with people where they are. Our Sunday worship services are intentional times for believers to come together to grow, to learn, to meet with and worship God. Sunday services are not supposed to be evangelical in nature, targeting the non-believer. A wise pastor always incorporates the Gospel so that those who are not yet saved might believe, but corporate worship is for worshiping God. Not reaching the lost. We have six other days of the week for that.
How do we do that? We talk about Jesus. We all know that you naturally talk about the things you love and enjoy. If you love and enjoy Jesus, it will be natural to talk about it. Practice with fellow believers so that it is more natural when you talk to non believers. How did you come to faith? What is God doing in your life today? How do you fight sin? What is God teaching you? What most excites you about eternity? Be natural. Be real. Preach the Gospel. It does not have to be formal, in a gathering or Bible study. Just talk about Jesus. Wherever you all, whatever you are doing. This is how we will reach the world, not by inviting them in but by going and telling.
“…but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame.”
– 1 Peter 3.15-16
“I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction.”
– 1 Tim 4.1-2
They will not come to us. Let’s go to them.