Should Unbelievers Feel Comfortable at Church?
One of the continuing trends in American churches stemmed from the Willow Creek movement, which focuses church services on unbelievers. It is common to see churches claiming to be a “church for the unchurched” and similar slogans. Maybe this is not something you have stopped to think about, but it should be.
We should seriously think about the question, “Should unbelievers feel comfortable at church?” I think a different question can be helpful. Should a Christian feel comfortable at a Mormon worship service or a Jehovah Witness church or a Muslim mosque? It seems ridiculous when we ask it that way. Of course we shouldn’t feel comfortable. There is a big problem if we do.
Some will argue that unbelievers in a church is different. I’m just not sure how that is. If I am a person trusting in myself or something other than Christ for salvation, then how could I be comfortable in a church service? If I hear the gospel, I will feel uncomfortable. It’s only good news for those that trust it. Otherwise, it’s really bad news. If I stand with a group of people that sing together in worship to a God that I do not trust, how could I be comfortable? If I bow my head to pray to a God that I have no relationship with, how could that not be awkward? Everything about a church service should feel awkward and uncomfortable if the church is there to worship God and I am not.
Many churches use this method to reach the unreached. I agree that our churches should not be growing by swapping church members. We need to reach the unchurched. However, it is not the pastor’s job to do that any more than it is every other congregant’s job. The pastor’s job is to equip the church to go out and reach those people. Certainly, to do so the sermons must point to Christ and prepare the church to take the Word of God and apply it to their lives in a way that evangelizes the lost. This does not mean that every sermon needs a gospel presentation, though. If someone came up to me after a sermon and said, “I brought a lost friend to church today, but I don’t think they know exactly how to become a Christian from your sermon.” I would reply, “Then tell them.”
And he himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, equipping the saints for the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ, until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of God’s Son, growing into maturity with a stature measured by Christ’s fullness. – Ephesians 4:11-13
This is where we find out that the job of a pastor is to equip the church. In fact, all ministry jobs are for that same purpose, even evangelists. Therefore, a biblical evangelist does not look like a crusade or revival preacher. Rather, he is one gifted in evangelism that trains the church to go out and evangelize. Pastors are supposed to “do the work of an evangelist” (2 Tim. 4:5), but that does not mean they should be doing evangelism for the church from the pulpit or letting their church members bring all their lost friends to them to hear the gospel. It means they should be training their flock to do evangelism and live as an example of a personal evangelist.
If a church service is directed at unbelievers, then it fails to be a church service. It is an outreach event. Outreach events are good, but we should not confuse them with church worship gatherings. We can still be sensitive to unbelievers in our midst. They should feel welcomed and loved, but we should not expect them to feel comfortable. Nor should we direct our services at them. If we do so, then we are not creating a culture that equips the saints for the work of the ministry. Instead, we create a mentality that inviting people to church is all the members need to do.
It is true that Jesus wants unbelievers to come to him. The beautiful irony of the gospel is that he tells the lost to come and the saved to go. Our churches are not bomb shelters to escape the world. Nor are they businesses trying to get more consumers. They are armories where the soldiers of the Lord’s army come to restock, reload, and recuperate so that they can go back out and reach the world.
In his book Pastoral Ministry: How to Shepherd Biblically, John MacArthur says,
“It is absolutely bizarre to want to make unsaved people feel comfortable in a church. The church is not a building–the church is a group of worshiping, redeemed, and sanctified people among whom an unbeliever should feel either miserable, convicted, and drawn to Christ, or else alienated and isolated. Only if the church hides its message and ceases to be what God designed the church to be, can it make an unbeliever comfortable.”
If an unbeliever walks away from a sermon feeling encouraged, then that sermon failed. If they feel good after a worship song, then that song didn’t serve its purpose. If they feel right at home during prayer, then that prayer was lacking a focus on God’s glory and the redemption of lost souls. The believers might be encouraged, but an unbeliever should be anything but encouraged unless they are about to walk out and make the decision to make Jesus Christ their Lord. Otherwise, “the offense of the cross has been abolished” (Gal. 5:11).