Although it feels like a billion years ago, it really is true that Christianity used to be a pretty popular thing here in America.
Because of that, believers and unbelievers alike partook in its weekly practices. Lost, unregenerate people filled the pews every Lord's Day — not necessarily because they loved Jesus or wanted to be there but because they'd be shunned by their neighbors if they weren't.
This cultural popularity of the faith in some way designated the four walls of a church the primary evangelistic venue. Christians didn't have to go out into the world with the gospel of Jesus Christ because every Sunday morning the world was coming to them.
Oh, how things have changed!
The days when a simple invitation to church sufficed as an acceptable and effective evangelistic tactic are long gone. I know it may break many hearts to hear this, but unbelievers don't want to come to your church.
One of the great things about living in a post-Christian culture is that non-Christians have stopped pretending to be Christians. I'm not rejoicing in the fact that they're not believers but in the fact that they're actually being honest with themselves and others about who they really are. They've stopped pretending and therefore stopped attending.
Some churches have tried to counter our increasing unpopularity by becoming more stylistically appealing, but this whole hip-and-cool, seeker friendly thing is weak and bogus. Our unbelieving friends see right through all that stuff. Lost people aren't coming to our churches because lost people don't worship our God, and no amount of smoke and lights or amazing musicians or comedic, people-pleasing preachers are going to change that.
The best environment for evangelism in today's world is not a Sunday service, but a real-life relationship.
I'm not saying a church invitation is never necessary or good — sometimes it is. But most times, people are going to interact with Jesus a good long while through their ordinary relationships with ordinary believers before they ever step foot into a church. An unbeliever is much more apt to listen to one of their friends talk about the gospel than some preacher they've never met.
Christian brother or sister: we are the front lines of the gospel mission — not our pastors or other church staff. We are the means through which the message of Jesus is going to infiltrate and redeem the hearts of our lost friends.
What does this look like, though? It's easy to say that we, individual Christians, are the means through which Jesus is going to get to the world. But how do we actually accomplish this? Here are a three key things that come to my mind.
1. We have to be utterly reliant on the Holy Spirit's leading.
It's he that is going to lead us into situations and conversations with our friends where the seeds of the gospel can be sown. We have to be in tune with him to know when we should speak up and when we should shut up. In the book of Acts, we see the Holy Spirit leading the apostles and disciples to act in different ways at different times. Sometimes they'd preach open-air sermons. Sometimes they'd reason quietly with people. Sometimes the Spirit would empower them to march bravely into dangerous territory. And sometimes, he'd forbid them to even enter into a certain area. The Spirit is always leading, and we need to pray without ceasing so that we can stay in sync with him.
2. We have to be willing to say hard things.
Part of the reason mere church invites are such an appealing evangelistic practice is because they take the difficult aspects of gospel sharing off of us and place them onto the preacher. But it is our responsibility as ambassadors of Jesus to say the hard things that need to be said as the Spirit leads. We have to be willing to call sin what it is. We have to be willing to verbally disagree with our friends' positions on issues like gay marriage and abortion. We have to be willing to tell people that they're wrong in their ideas about God and spirituality. The world is blind and lost and they need to be told so. Before they ever can see their need for a savior they will have to see their need for saving, and the Lord will often accomplish this through our gentle and loving communication of their error.
3. We have to open our lives and homes to unbelievers.
I think sometimes the American Christian mindset holds that it's only "safe" for us to allow people to enter our lives when they've been saved and cleaned up by Jesus first. Maybe we fear that the sinfulness of others will somehow contaminate us. Maybe we're grossed out by the way they sin. Or perhaps we live in a constant, man-centered dread of other people's opinions and are paranoid that if our church friends see us hanging out with sinners, they may assume we're "backsliding." Whatever it may be that causes us to hold a ten-foot pole between those outside of Christ and ourselves, it needs to die. Jesus didn't keep a "safe distance" from the unbelieving people in his life. He ate with them, talked with them, and listened to them in intimate proximity. Jesus is a friend of sinners, and we would do well to follow his lead in this.
Here's a hypothetical (but probably pretty realistic) situation in which each of these things can be applied:
Let's say you're a Christian lady who has a gay coworker with whom you want develop a deeper friendship for the sake of the gospel, but you can't conceive of a way to appropriately do that in your workplace. Maybe the next step in developing your friendship is to invite your coworker and his partner over to your home for dinner with you and your husband.
If your husband finds keeping company with gay men an uncomfortable experience and resists your idea, perhaps you need to pray together that the Lord can help your husband to get over himself (I'm kidding; actually, no I'm not) and on board with the heart and mission of Jesus.
When the night of the dinner arrives, don't feel pressured to lay out a comprehensive detailing of the gospel truths and call your friend and his partner to repentance over dessert. Just pray for God to lead you. The Spirit may prod you to say something, or he may not even want you to say anything Jesus-related at all. Just relax and enjoy getting to know your company. Don't view them as projects, but as friends. Ask them about their lives — their families, their hobbies, their aspirations, their cats ... whatever. Just have a normal conversation like you would have with anyone of your "straight" friends.