- We have not “outed” ourselves as Christians. We’d rather just go around and be a nice person than be labelled a Christian. We don’t talk about our church, we don’t talk about spiritual things. We don’t offer to put people on our prayer list. We are “incognito Christians.” So it’s not likely that we’re going to invite people to church. This is closely related to number two.
- We are afraid we will get rejected. “Coming out” as a believer in Jesus may produce a crisis or loyalty or friendship. If we invite them to join us on Sunday they may say no. Then what will happen to our friendship? They may not like me or want to be around me if I put them on the spot like that. I better just keep my faith to myself and try to be nice.
- Our church is an unspoken “family only” or “members only” event and not an “open house.” Sure they may say, “visitors welcome” but they don’t really mean it. Not everyone is welcome. We’ve seen it before. So we don’t want to put our friend in that potentially awkward place. We had better just leave the relationship like it is.
- There are few if any other regular visitors and our invitee will either be smothered or ignored. In other words they will likely feel awkward or out of place. So instinctively we don’t want to put them in a position where “Marjorie” will come to “introduce herself” and proceed to interrogate them. Or others will make disapproving glances at them and at me for bringing them because they are new or different.
- We are not sure what kind of sermon or message will be shared, one “for family” only or one that will be received and understood for someone who is checking things out or otherwise beginning to explore Jesus Christ. That doubt gives us pause.
- They will see the church is not perfect because our church has some problems, conflicts, issues with money, weird personalities, etc.
- They would never fit in - there are lots of republicans/democrats, white people, old people, fill-in the blank…there and my friend is not republican, white, old, etc.
- Our church comes off as a religious club. My church doesn’t do a lot for other people other than themselves and I’m not sure my friend would would really understand why we exist.
- There is no real, obvious pathway for newer members or believers to grow in their faith and so I’m not confident they will be nurtured as a disciple. Sure, it may be assumed that: A) I can disciple them, but that has not been modeled and I don’t know how to do it. B) We may assume that the pastor can or should do it, but the pastor is so busy C) or assume that existing sermons and Bible studies and catechism classes are enough. But intuitively we know there needs to be more hand-holding or personalized guidance and we know we aren’t equipped. Nor does it appear to be happening at your church by anyone else and so we are reluctant to put our friend in the awkward place were they come to church, join, then get discouraged and leave - just like the seed without good soil in Matthew 13. Then see item “2” again.
- There may even be false assumptions: about someone’s faith and eternity or even the truths of Christianity. “They probably know Jesus anyway.” “They probably have faith anyway.” “Didn’t everyone grow up going to church?” “They’re a good person.”
Notice I didn’t put on the list, “We don’t know what to say.” Yes, you read that right. Have you ever needed to tell a grandparent to talk about their grandkids? Ever had to tell a grandparent to show other people, even strangers, pictures of their grandchildren? It’s not necessary. Love will overcome all of those barriers!
The point is that even if people aren’t sure exactly what words to use, the words will come out and invitations will be made to church. But that is dependent on a few things: If we love Jesus, if we know our church welcomes and nurtures people who are curious and exploring the faith without embarrassing them, if we know our friends and pastor at church “get it” and will be sensitive and considerate of people who come who may not yet believe. We will invite people if we see our church as one that exists not just for itself but for making a difference in the name of Jesus in our community and bringing people closer to Jesus. That kind of an atmosphere and culture are inspiring and energizing. Not only will we want to be a part of that kind of community of people but we will be talking about it with those who are close to us without even thinking about it! It does not depend on knowing what to say.
But if that is not the atmosphere and culture of a church or someone’s attitude then it is far more likely that we will just to say nothing. We comfort ourselves and resign ourselves to be a “silent witness.” But we all know what that means. We will continue to be an anonymous Christian and our friend will probably not hear about the eternally transformative message of Jesus Christ. Not only that but our church will continue to die.
So, how “uncomfortable” are you with being “comfortable” in not talking about Jesus and His church? How long will you tolerate what gets in the way? What is the purpose of your church anyway? If it is a safe place nurturing place for believers, that’s wonderful. But if it is not a safe place for unbelievers then you are in serious trouble.
God wants far more for you and your friends and your church than you can ask or imagine.
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Scott Gress is called by Lutheran Counseling Services and partners with the FL-GA District of the Lutheran Church as an independent contractor. He specializes in Leadership Training, Consulting, Coaching and Coach Training. Contact Scott to continue the conversation or experience a free sample coaching session. 561-542-4472, firstname.lastname@example.org or scottgress.com
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