We often get asked this question in one way or another. I guess the question behind this question is “should we encourage people to bring their non-Christian friends to church services or to missional communities?”
The short answer to this is : it doesn’t really matter! Both are effective – both the central services and missional communities should feed into each other.
And here’s the slightly longer answer…..
The most effective approach is to use both services and missional communities and lever them for their strengths rather than being dogmatic about which should be the primary access point for non-Christians.
Some of the key strengths of a missional community as an entry point for discipleship are:
- Relationship with non-churched people can be built more naturally and organically.
- The pace, texture, and spiritual input of the MC can be more specifically tailored to where its members are at spiritually.
- It may be less overwhelming for some non-churched people to meet in a home or smaller environment than in a larger church building.
And some of the strengths of the Central gathering as an entry point for discipleship:
- They can often give people a clear message of the gospel and a clear way to respond e.g. preaching of the word and an altar call to respond to that word.
- They are a natural gathering point particularly around festivals or traditions, e.g start of academic year, Christmas, Easter, weddings, baptisms, christenings etc. Though church services may put some non-churched people off, for others it may offer a safe and easy connection point because it’s more, visible, known and predictable than a missional community gathering. Parish Churches can particularly draw local people into their central service at these natural gathering points; they are a visible and known Christian gathering place within their geographical community. Rob and Nikki from St Thomas’ Crookes, Sheffield, are just one example of people who plugged in through central church, and became Christians in that environment. They were new to the area and Nikki started taking her kids to the toddler group at St Thomas’. Whilst she was there one of the leaders talked about a church service for young families. Nikki and Rob decided to give it a go and went along to the service for the next few months. They then joined in with the 11 am service at the same church. Nikki began to realise the truth of Jesus at a Carol service, and for Rob it was the half-night of prayer, and they both did alpha courses before finally making a decision to get baptized.
Non-churched people do sometimes really want to connect with a Sunday service. So, is that enough?
Years ago, when I worked for a multi-national company I had several work colleagues who I would now identify as people of peace. Back then, my whole frame of thinking about “church” and the role of church was completely different. I believed that the “solution” to see those people of peace brought into the Kingdom was to invite them to church. I thought that once I’d got them to a service, then God and “the church” i.e. the mechanics of the service which included the worship, word, and prayer ministry at the end would do its job and my colleagues would be saved. Job done.
Now I’ve adopted the reverse mentality. If one of my people of peace comes to church I see it not as the end, but the beginning.
So, if a church service is an entry point then we need to see it not as an end point to salvation but a as a starting point for life-long discipleship.
Our aim isn’t to get people to a church service so that “the church”- which we usually take to mean the paid staff – can then continue to disciple that person.
If non-churched people turn up at our services, and even become Christians at our services then that is fantastic and we should celebrate! But we need to be encouraging those new Christians to be thinking about how they grow in discipleship – both being discipled and learning how to disciple others. And that happens much more in the context of missional communities.
Central services can encourage this by having:
- Missional Community flyers at the back of the building.
- A welcome team to talk to newcomers about geography and interests to see where they could plug into an MC.
- A welcome letter with a list of all missional communities.
- A welcome course for joining the church (a couple of evenings) including information on MC’s.
- A service leader who will talk about the life in MC’s, why we do what we do etc.
- Testimonies from members of MCs at the front of the church.
- MC leaders introducing themselves, their community and their vision from the front on a Sunday and connecting with people after the service.
So, in summary there’s no ‘priority’ in terms of the best vehicle to engage or invite new people but we would encourage people to ask the question ‘what’s the best environment, given the relationship that you have with a non-Christian, to engage them?’ And then from that place continuing to disciple those people at whatever stage of the journey they’re at.
Anna is married to Rich and together the Robinsons lead the 3DM Europe team in Sheffield.
They have 3 children; Josiah, Esther and Samuel.
You can read lots of Anna’s thoughts, reflections and stories on family life by visiting here