Have you ever wanted to invite someone to church, but didn’t know how? Or have you wondered if you should even invite them? Many people feel nervous about this. What if I ask in the wrong way, or if my friend rejects my offer? But it does not need to be so scary, or such a big deal as you might think.
The early Christians did not have buildings called “church,” because they saw the people in their communities as the church (Eph. 1:22-23, 2:14-22, 3:6; 1 Cor. 12:12-27). They met with each other in their homes, ate meals together, prayed for each other and enjoyed each other’s company as friends. The book of Acts tells us that the early Christians "had all things in common" - which is to say that they were so closely connected to each other that they shared all their belongings.
44 And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had.45 They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need.46 They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity—47 all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved. Acts 2:44-47 (NLT)
What we see in the New Testament is not people who leave their home on the weekend to go to a location called "church." Instead, we see people gathering in homes and referring to the gathered community as "church." Prisca and Aquila hosted a church in their house (Romans 16:3-5; 1 Corinthians 16:19), and numerous other spots in the New Testament mention the members and heads of house churches (Philippians 4:22; Colossians 4:15; Philemon 1:2).
The most important thing is not inviting your friends to an event or a place, but rather inviting them into your life.
If you think your church might not make sense to a new guest, why not invite them to hang out with you and some of your Christian friends outside of the weekend service? Friendship is the true first step. The goal is not about getting people into a specific building, but getting them involved in a believing community. That is just as much church as inviting them to a building, because Jesus is there when his people get together (Matt 28:20). It’s more important that someone meet Jesus first.
It is also important to never underestimate the importance of food.
Table Fellowship was and is a very important part of Christian history (Acts 20:11; 1 Cor. 11; Gal. 2:11-13). The early church shocked the world because poor and rich people would gather in the same home and eat a meal together at the same table. One of the most important rituals in Christianity is a meal - the Lord’s Supper. We saw earlier that the church was already getting together to eat this meal together very early on in their history (see Acts 2). Luke reports that along Paul's missionary journeys, his appointments to meet with church members took place in homes, specifically for the purpose of "breaking bread," getting together to eat a meal, including the Lord's Supper (Acts 20:7-12). While modern churches often use very small portions of break and drink to accomodate the large number of people who gather in church buildings, early church celebrations of communion had the luxury of taking place in homes and being able to be more like a proper meal.
The ritual itself is sacred, but so is the gathering of people together as friends in God’s presence. Eating a meal with someone can be a very spiritual experience, and a perfect way to show them what church is all about.
In Galatians 2:11-13, Paul mentions that breaking table fellowship - not eating with or sitting with certain people - could cause greak problems in the church.
11 But when Peter came to Antioch, I had to oppose him to his face, for what he did was very wrong.12 When he first arrived, he ate with the Gentile believers, who were not circumcised. But afterward, when some friends of James came, Peter wouldn’t eat with the Gentiles anymore. He was afraid of criticism from these people who insisted on the necessity of circumcision.13 As a result, other Jewish believers followed Peter’s hypocrisy, and even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy.
The reality is that the real version of church is having a community of Christian believers around you - people who share your faith, but who also share common life experiences with you. The early Christian believers hung out together, ate food together, and would be grievously hurt if someone in the community adopted a "you can't sit with us" attitude.
So perhaps you have been thinking about inviting a friend to your church. If they have some religious background, maybe that would be just fine. But maybe your church is very old school, or perhaps your pastor has a tendency to go on long, confusing tangents. Maybe you are concerned that people - whether the preacher or just other church members - may say hurtful or judgmental things to a visitor who doesn't "look right" at church, or perhaps your church has special outreach events that are much better and more welcoming than the normal service - to the point of being false advertising. Or maybe there are some other barriers that make you wonder if your church is the right place to invite your friends.
That's ok. Inviting someone to church is as easy as inviting them into your life with Jesus. How you start is up to you. You can have church literally anywhere, as long as you gather together with people who believe in Jesus. He will meet with you (Matthew 18:20), and you can trust that your church experience is the real thing. There are a lot of cultural expectations built up around the building called "church," but that's not the real thing. The real church is you and your believing friends getting together to celebrate God, learn the scriptures, enjoy a good meal, talk about life, sing songs, comfort each other in hard times, and share life's struggles together.
From that point of view, every day is a chance to invite someone to church.
- In Galatians 2, Paul gives Peter a hard time because Peter chose to discriminate against another ethnic group in the church, refusing to sit with them to eat. Have you ever witnessed this kind of behavior in church? What situations brought it about? How did people deal with it? Were you involved? How does that kind of thing make you feel?
- One of the biggest conflicts in the early church was the division between the Jewish believers and the Gentiles (non Jewish). Read Ephesians 2:14-22. What does Paul say about the division between these people? What has ended it? What kind of building does Paul compare their new community to?
- We've seen that the early church met in houses in many of the verses listed above (Romans 16:3-5; 1 Corinthians 16:19,Philippians 4:22; Colossians 4:15; Philemon 1:2). But there are also examples of people worshipping together outside. Read Acts 16:11-15. Where were Lydia and her friends meeting to pray? If this is a possibility, what are some other options you could thing of as potential places of worship? Where could you and your friends do church?
- Many times, modern Christians get into arguments about how to conduct worship properly. In most of these instances, the format of worship has nothing at all to do with how the early church worshipped, and even less to do with how worship was conducted in the Temple in Jerusalem. Read Colossians 3:12-17. Based on those instructions, what could the life of your church community be like? How could you engage in worship with your friends? Would it need to be fancy, elaborate, and require a stage production?
- Have you ever successfully invited one of your friends to a service in an actual church building? How did you go about it? Did your friend come back multiple times? What made the service and community appealing? What could have been better?