"Almost every week our pastor tells us to get out and 'make disciples' and invite people to church. But I've already invited everyone I know who wasn't already in a church. And that's the case for almost everyone in our church. So, what are we supposed to do?"
Our writer brings up a point that has plagued the Church for the past decade or two. Back in the 50s most people assumed nearly everyone was a church-going Christian. That certainly wasn't true, but it was a lot more true then than today. As time has passed that perception has changed, but changed or not, most people well ensconced in the Church have either invited everyone they could think of, or they've written off those already in another church or who've shown no interest.
This problem lends some credence to the proverb that suggests the Church is only one generation from extinction. If any single generation drops the evangelism ball, the Church suffers significantly. And the attendance figures for the Church clearly show there was a fumble somewhere.
It's not the purpose of this column to deal with what happened between the 50s and the present, that must wait for another time. Instead, as we examine our writer's words we might conclude that they've done all they could and so they're of the hook, right?
But nothing could be farther from the truth. Jesus left only one commission for the Church-to make disciples. And if that's the stated purpose of the Church, then every Christian has a share in that commission.
So, what's our writer to do? How can we fulfill that commission if we don't know anyone who's interested in Christianity, let alone the Church? It's a sad fact that many Christians don't have any friends who aren't already Christians. It has long been a custom of Church people to associate only with other Christians, a sectarian attitude if ever there was one. But clearly, that was neither the instruction nor the example of Jesus.
Jesus told his followers they were to make a difference in the world: "You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot. You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house" (Matthew 5.13-15). If non-Christians are to see that "light" then Christians have to be out where they can do the most good. In the same manner, salt is only useful if it's mixed in with food (or scattered all over the ice!). In any event, salt cooped up in the salt shaker is worthless. Jesus was trying to get across that his followers were to get out and mingle.
By his example, Jesus showed his disciples exactly what he meant. Jesus took his followers with him to parties where prostitutes hung out. He visited in non-Jewish homes. And he both visited, spent time with, and even touched the untouchable lepers. Indeed, he reminded his disciples that he didn't come to minister to the good, righteous people. Rather he was "sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel" (Matthew 15.24).
So, if we're to follow Jesus' example, how do we extend our influence outside of our Churches? There are a number of ways Christians can widen their influence beyond their own niche. The first way is to begin noticing the unnoticeables. The unnoticeables are those people we may not pay much attention to: the gas station attendant, the grocery store cashier, the postal worker, the barista, etc.-people who serve us. By intentionally getting to know these people, by caring about them and becoming friends, a whole new world of people is opened up. Other ways of getting to know new people is to join local civic or service clubs, join the PTA, attend local events and meetings, and so on.
There was a movie that came out a couple years ago called, Six Degrees of Separation that contended we are only six contacts away from any other person in the world. That is, we know someone, who knows someone, who knows someone, and so on, to anyone, anywhere in the whole, wide world. If this is the case, the Christian faith when shared appropriately, is only six degrees from touching everyone, everywhere. But that will never happen so long as Christians ignore Christ's example and stay in their own little world.