82 Percent Will Attend Church--Now What?

"82 percent of the unchurched are at least somewhat likely to attend church if invited.... Only 2 percent of church members invite an unchurched person to church. 98% of church-goers never extend an invitation in a given year." - Dr. Thom Rainer, The Unchurched Next Door. The obvious implication of this that church-goers need to do a better job inviting their friends to church. But if we're really going to be effective in doing God's work, we need to seek the answers to some deeper questions:

  • Could it be that more church-goers don't invite their friends to church because they know it won't make a difference in their friends' lives? If so, why is a church-going experience viewed as so ineffective?

  • What about the other 18 percent of Americans who will not attend church even if asked? How will we reach them? Or did Jesus only die for church-goers?

  • What if every church filled its buildings with receptive guests one Sunday (such as on the Sunday after 9/11)? What happens then? Will they come back the next Sunday? If not, why?

  • Is the growth of our churches the most effective way to fulfill the Great Commission? Or is a new paradigm (really an old paradigm--1st century kind-of-old) needed to see a rapidly reproducing discipleship movement?

What Does It Mean To Make Disciples?

"And Jesus came up and said to them, 'All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age" (Matt. 28:18-20).

In these verses, commonly known as the Great Commission, Jesus instructs his followers as to their primary activity on earth: disciple-making. But what does it mean to make disciples?

Examining these verses carefully gives us some important principles to keep in mind:

  • Disciple-making is the task of all believers.

  • Disciple-making is a process that begins with evangelism.

  • Disciple-making is a process that continues with spiritual growth.

  • Disciple-making is a process that results in more disciple-making.

A definition of disciple-making:

Disciple-making is the process of bringing people from unbelief to becoming devoted followers of Jesus who reproduce this process with others.

To learn more about how you can become a better disciple-maker, click the "Free Resources" tab at the top of this page and download the "Faith Trainer Workbook."

America: The Most Difficult Place to Share the Gospel

Dr. Anthony Jordan, the Executive Director of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, recently preached a thought-provoking sermon at Riverview Baptist Church in Bixby, OK. He made the following comment (which I summarize): "International Mission Board President Tom Elliff says that the most difficult place to share the gospel is the United States." Jordan (and perhaps Elliff himself) attributed the dynamic to our hesitancy to share the gospel personally. "It's easier to write a check or even go to another country than go across the street," believers think. I am convinced that there are some other factors that contribute to the difficulty of sharing the gospel in the United States. (I'm sure Jordan does as well, but a sermon typically does not allow a thorough examination of issues that are beyond the scope of church members to address effectually.) I believe one of those factors is a general lack of receptivity to the gospel.

However, some other major factors may have to do with differences between churches in the United States and the rest of the world. Here are a few ways in which churches hinder the gospel:

  • A ministry accomplished by "experts." Pastors are to "equip the saints (regular believers) for the work of ministry" (Eph. 4:12). Instead, many churches have a culture in which the pastor and staff are the spiritual errand-boys who do all the work. (Self-absorbed pastors do the church no favor when they create an "all about me" environment.) As a result, believers become observers.

  • An overemphasis on buildings. Rapidly reproducing discipleship movements occur in those places where the gospel doesn't have to wait on buildings to be built. The 1st-century church exploded in growth in part because it followed the "household" methodology Jesus gave the disciples in Luke 10. The result was a "house to house" multiplication of believers (cf. Acts 2:46-47; Acts 5:42).

  • A "come and see" attitude. Having well-run programs is certainly better than having poorly-run programs, but we need to be careful not to develop an attractional mindset. When we do, the message people in our communities hear is: "Come be a part of us. Help us increase our buildings, budgets, and salaries." People are not impressed with that. Instead, their hearts will be opened to the gospel when they encounter a church that produces an all-too-rare message: "We'll come be a part of you. How can we help you fulfill your God-given dreams? What can we do for you?"

  • An escape from the world. For many, "church" is not about training and sending believers, but providing an escape from the world. Sundays are a "retreat" (think about that term militarily) instead of an equipping of a spiritual army. If disciple-making occurs, it usually occurs by the hands of paid staff or a few super-Christians--and it almost always occurs within the building.

  • Wrong pastoral priorities. Too many American pastors are more concerned with job security than fidelity to the Bible and the mission Christ has given us. Pastors face a constant temptation to be content "coasting" in ministry. Once a pastor gives in, he no longer is a biblical shepherd, but becomes a chaplain, caretaker, or undertaker.

The good news is that these (and other) problems are capable of being addressed. If we will examine the Scriptures (like the Berean Jews in Acts 17:11) and make an honest assessment of our shortcomings, the necessary changes will become obvious. And when we begin to make these changes, I believe we will become less of a hindrance to the gospel.