Over many years I have heard many excuses why people can’t make it to church. Many of them are good reasons, like a child is sick, or I work shift work and can’t make it this week. One I hear commonly is that people are skipping church for the sake of evangelising a friend. Now in many ways this is pleasing because in more than a few churches people wouldn’t think of evangelising at all. But the more I think about it, the more I think that skipping church to evangelise is self-defeating.
Why do I say that? It comes from the nature of what evangelism is. You see, if evangelism is simply introducing people to a personal, individual relationship with Jesus, then it makes perfect sense to skip church, especially if the opportunity may not come up again. But if evangelism is more than that – if it is inviting people to join the church, the body of Christ, then we send very mixed messages when we skip church to evangelise our friend. On one hand we’re saying, ‘Come and join the church, because there is nothing more important that God is doing in this world than building his church’, and on the other hand we’re saying merely by our non-attendance, ‘You are more important to me than church’. It’s a mixed message. Perhaps a more powerful response would be, ‘I’d love to, but I have church on at that time, and I love to go to church and wouldn’t miss it for the world. Is there another time we can do it?’ Our friends are unlikely to believe us when we say one thing with our lips and another with our feet.
But is evangelism inviting people to join the church? Absolutely. As Paul says to the church in Corinth:
“For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.” (1 Cor 12:13)
Baptism during the early church was carried out at conversion, and so Paul here is talking about what happened when they became a Christian – they joined the ‘one body’ of the church. It’s not something that we opt into later only if we happen to believe in ‘organised religion’. It’s something that a Christian is converted into. To become a Christian is to join the church, and so we make it our weekly habit of attending our local church for the rest of our lives. We miscommunicate this important element of Christianity when we skip church to spend time with our friends, despite our best intentions. So, showing a strong, even sacrificial, commitment to church does not inhibit evangelism, but compliments it. It will mean, however, that we’ll have to find more time in our week for non-Christian friends…