STOP INVITING PEOPLE TO CHURCH
by Trevor DeVage
You are wondering if you read that title right. It is not a typo. Let me explain. If there’s one way the post-Covid church must be different than the pre-Covid church, it’s this: We must move from invitation to infiltration.
We must infiltrate because Jesus commanded it. He told us “Go [actually, as you go] into all the world and make disciples.” The place for disciple-making is the everyday worlds of the people who need to know about Jesus. Coming to church on Sunday morning isn’t even on their radar. Our only hope—and their only hope—is for us to go where they are. Who will show them Jesus if someone doesn’t take him to where they are?
We must infiltrate because Jesus demonstrated it. Jesus was accused of being a glutton and a drunk for a reason—not that he was either, but because he spent time with those who were. Jesus didn’t hang out in the temple all day. The Pharisees did that while they built their reputation for legalistic hypocrisy. Meanwhile, Jesus ate and drank and laughed and listened, and lives were changed as a result.
We must infiltrate because people need the grace and good news of the gospel. In my lunchtime online prayer meeting Monday, I challenged listeners to adopt a lifestyle of grace over grudges and concentrated on three categories: Grace with enemies. Grace with self. Grace with family. I asked those online where they had the greatest grudge. You might guess that “my grudge against myself” got the most votes.
It’s true for most of us. Deep inside we yearn to believe we’re OK. Jesus knew this. So when he encountered a tax collector so hungry for grace that he climbed a tree to catch a glimpse of it, Jesus said, “I’m coming to your house for dinner tonight.”
Another time Jesus was at a dinner party at a leper’s house when a sinful woman, overwhelmed with gratitude for the hope Jesus offered, poured out her very expensive perfume to anoint his feet. God’s grace flowed freely in the home of an outcast and in the presence of a prostitute. But God’s people with him could only criticize. They, like too many Christians today, were offended by sin instead of compelled to show God to the sinner.
A LONG-TERM STRATEGY
But infiltration takes time. I go to the golf course for two reasons. (1) I love the game. (2) I meet unchurched people there. Almost always when I go by myself, two or three guys see me and ask me to join them. My first words to them are NOT, “Hey, I’m a pastor and I’d like to invite you to my church.” In fact, I may golf with a guy four or five times before he gets around to asking me what I do.
Now, after eight years golfing at that course, three families I first met there are coming to our church. I doubt any of them would have ever come here if I hadn’t first gone there. Because I’ve pursued a strategy of infiltration, counseling has happened, marriages are being healed, grace is being poured out. God is entering the lives of my friends because I was willing to enter their lives on the golf course.
I firmly believe the lost art of the church is infiltrating culture. Even if I weren’t a pastor, this would be my strategy. It’s a strategy more Christians need to take up.
IN THE COMPANY OF SCANDAL
Like the Pharisees at the leper’s house, God’s people are sometimes uncomfortable with infiltration. This is understandable, because we try to avoid scandal. But Jesus didn’t flinch at scandal all around him. To impact scandal, you must go where the scandal is. Again and again, Jesus put himself in a position to save the scandalous.
This is why we sponsor church at the Monkey Bar. It’s not a very churchy setting. It is a perfect place to share good news with a not very churchy crowd.
This is why we advertised a Bourbon Tasting Night the Monkey Bar was sponsoring. I hung out there that evening and struck up a conversation with a guy I’d never seen before. Not thirty minutes into our time together, he told our circle (a couple of other guys from the church were with us), “You want to know about my week? One month ago yesterday my dad died. And yesterday my best friend died of colon cancer.” He felt free to share raw and real pain with a pastor and some other Christians at a bar. We would have never known his need if we had waited for him to show up at our building on a Sunday morning.
Rosaria Champagne Butterfield’s story is another example. Years ago at Christianity Today, she shared how she came to Christ. A leftist lesbian professor investigating the Religious Right, she wrote a newspaper article attacking the church as she had seen it.
Written responses included many condemning remarks from Christians. But she couldn’t ignore one “kind and inquiring” letter from a pastor who encouraged her to pursue her questions. “With the letter, Ken initiated two years of bringing the church to me, a heathen,” she wrote. She accepted his invitation to dinner with him and his wife because she thought it would be good for her research. It was the first of many times she spent with them, times that eventually pointed her to God.
Read the article for yourself to see how this Christian and his wife became non-condemning friends to Rosaria, offering her simple love and friendship. She began reading the Bible with a different attitude, and after years of struggle and self-examination, she “came to Jesus, openhanded and naked.”
Her beautiful story illustrates the vision that has captured me. Infiltration is the only strategy that will reach people around us who desperately need what only God provides. It’s a risky strategy. Sometimes it’s messy. Often it’s misunderstood. But infiltrating our world with God’s grace is the only way many will ever experience it.