What if the things you do to make your church attractive actually obscure the attraction of the gospel?
The attraction of the gospel is what Jesus described in John 13:35: “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Not just love in general, but love for one another. That love in the Ephesian church—between Jew and Gentile who shared nothing in common but Christ—is what Paul says makes even the heavens above stare in wonder at the wisdom of God (Eph. 3:10). The gospel brings people with nothing in common (Eph. 2:18) to love each other even more deeply than family (Eph. 2:19).
Here’s an example of that kind of community: a few years ago, a Harvard professor visited my church. He was an expert in crowd psychology. He wasn’t a Christian. The relationships in the church fascinated him. It seemed people had nothing to gain from each other. He didn’t see any plausible explanation for what drew this ungainly group together—until, underneath it all, he discovered the gospel. Today, he is following Christ in our church.
In an attempt to be attractive, however, many of our churches let that vibrant, supernatural attraction of gospel-filled community sit idle in the background while we settle for tepid, naturalistic, similar-to-this-world attraction. To paraphrase those well-known words of C. S. Lewis, we’re making mud pies in the slums instead of delighting in a holiday at the sea.
How do we do that?
Church community is perhaps the most obviously supernatural evidence for the truth of the gospel.
1. We divide a church based on similarity.
Sometimes an entire church is geared to a particular demographic, like a hip-hop church or a church for millennials. Sometimes it’s segmentation within the church, like a singles group or small groups for couples with kids, or services for different musical styles. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this “ministry by similarity.” But it comes at significant cost: if ministry by similarity starts to characterize your church, it obscures true gospel unity.
What if the Ephesians had split up into a church for Jews and one for Gentiles? After all, Jewish Ephesians would be more comfortable going to a church of their peers, right? But a gospel unity between natural strangers is profoundly more attractive than the comfort of similarity, be it the natural strangers of Jew and Gentile, Democrat and Republican, millennial and retiree, home-school mom and lawyer mom, or NASCAR fan and opera connoisseur. Have you constructed your church so that this kind of love is on display? Or is it smothered by ministry-by-similarity?
2. We downplay the commitment to each other Jesus expects every Christian to make.
Our churches allow any Christian to feel part of the church community on whatever terms they desire. But Jesus expects every Christian to love other Christians in ways that are quite significant—to sacrifice for each other, to pray for each other, and to hold each other accountable. When we’re not honest about the commitment Jesus expects of every Christian to a local church, we obscure the depth of commitment the gospel creates in a church. Look hard at how your church practices membership: does it clarify that Jesus expects this kind of commitment from all his followers?
3. We make evangelism an individual endeavor instead of a corporate endeavor.
Church community is perhaps the most obviously supernatural evidence for the truth of the gospel (Eph. 3:10). Is it clear in your church who led who to the Lord? Or are there so many people involved in each conversion, it’s impossible to say? If the church is functioning as it should, I hope that your general experience falls into that second category.
How are you trying to make your church attractive? Let’s be like Paul: “For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.”