Are Church Services for Christians or Non-Christians?

Aim Your Church Services at Christians

What is the main evangelistic value of your church service? Is it directly explaining the gospel to non-Christians? No. Church is for explaining the gospel to Christians, to fuel the supernatural witness of their community together. In 1 Corinthians 14, Paul makes it clear that the church assembles mainly to edify believers. Everything we do should aim at glorifying God by edifying each other.

As a church leader you are probably told frequently that if you would just make church less about Christians and more about non- Christians, you’d see more people saved. If you would just shorten your services, simplify your sermons, open up service opportunities to nonmembers, have classes that non-Christians enjoy, and so forth . . . you’d reach the lost for Christ. But if that were true, why does the New Testament devote so much of its content to how the local church can worship God by building up believers? When we begin to think about church gatherings as mainly opportunities for evangelism, we make a few mistakes.

•  First, we forget that, absent supernatural community, the church can’t compete with the world to attract non-Christians. For people bent on pleasure and ambition, the world will always be a more attractive place than your church to spend a Sunday morning. You can’t out-world the world.

•  Second, with many societies becoming increasingly post- Christian, people have lost any residual feeling that they ought to go to church. That means that no matter how relevant you attempt to be to a non-Christian world, the main way non- Christians will come to you is through a relationship they already have with a Christian in your church.

Most importantly, our greatest confirmation of the gospel is the community of the local church. Therefore, our best strategy for reaching the world is to fan that community into a raging inferno of supernatural witness that will be far more attractive than any adjustment to our music, small groups, or sermons could ever be.

How ironic that in the name of reaching the world, some churches have embraced a consumerist approach that only encourages self- oriented concern.

Make Church Services Accessible to Non-Christians

This might seem like odd counsel given my first point. But while Paul taught in 1 Corinthians 14 that our worship gatherings exist mainly for edification, he also had keen interest in the response of unbelievers to those gatherings (vv. 20–25). So preach sermons that address the unbelievers present. Observe ways in which the passage you’re preaching undercuts common assumptions of the non-Christian world. Ask questions that beg for a Christian answer. Explain the gospel—not merely throughout the sermon, but in its entirety at some point in your address.

Similarly, explain what you’re doing as you move through the service. And use transition points to explain your purpose for each element of the service.

Three important things happen when you make your services ac- cessible to non-Christians.

First and most obviously, you help unbelieving attendees to engage with the service—even if they do so as outsiders. It’s OK for them to feel like outsiders; just make sure they are welcomed and well-informed outsiders.
 
Second, you teach your church that it is normal for non-Christians to be present. They won’t assume that everyone they meet after the service is a Christian simply because they are in church. And it will spur their thinking about including unbelieving friends at church.

Third, you teach your congregation how to engage with unbelief. You’re showing them how to apply Scripture winsomely to the objections of a non-Christian. And you’re showing all the ways in which the challenges of our world provide an on-ramp for the gospel.

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Excerpt from "The Compelling Community: Where God's Power Makes a Church", pg. 193-195, authored by Mark Dever and Jamie Dunlop, and published by Crossway.  

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