Americans don’t get invited to church, but just might go if you asked.
Let’s talk about evangelism.
In 2003 Thom Rainer published the results of a national survey on evangelism and found some surprising results. He learned that of the thousands of unchurched people he interviewed, 82% said they were “somewhat likely” to attend church if they were invited. Eighty-two percent. That number surprised and encouraged me. And frankly, even if the number were half of that it would still surprise and encourage me.
But other results of the survey were saddening. Even though many of our unchurched neighbors self-report as willing to attend church if they were asked, the truth is they aren’t being asked. Rainer found that “only 21% of active churchgoers have invited someone to church in the course of a year.” Worse still, “only 2% of church members invite an unchurched person to church.” (Read more about the survey at Al Mohler’s blog.)
That means in a church small church like my own, with let’s say 55 communicant members, then only 12 of those members invited someone to church in the last twelve months, and only one person invited an unbeliever. Are we doing better than this? I hope so. But my guess is that most of us wish we were doing more—or even something—to share the gospel with our unsaved family and friends.
So what can you do? Start by thinking about the first statistic again. Eighty-two percent means that if you made a list of ten lost souls, eight of them just might attend church…if you asked. So here’s a simple challenge: write that list! If ten is too many, then write five. And once you write your list, start praying for these people and for the courage to speak to them. Send your list to a friend and ask them to pray too.
The next thing to do is invite these people to church! It’s easier than you think and doesn’t usually require an extended theological discussion. But if you’re nervous and have questions about what to say, I highly recommend you read Rico Tice’s new book, Honest Evangelism: How to Talk About Jesus Even When It’s Tough. It gives practical and simple suggestions about how to prepare for evangelistic conversations. It also teaches you what it takes to overcome your fears. It’s the best thing I’ve ever read on how to share the gospel.
It’s important to say, however, that statistical motivation is not the main thing we need. In his book, Tice points out that the weakness, fear, and trembling we face in sharing the gospel is not unique to us. Paul struggled with the same thing and says as much to the Corinthians (1 Cor 2:3-4a). But if we, like Paul, trust God’s promises instead of resources (or fearing the lack thereof) God will provide strength in the Spirit to “cross the painline” and share the gospel. In other words, Paul didn’t overcome his fear, the Spirit did. That’s why he calls what happened “a demonstration of the Spirit and of power” (1 Cor 2:4b). And that’s where we find the courage we need to tell others about Jesus, or even just invite them to church.